A benefit fraud worth 10 million euros (13.9 million U.S. dollars) was uncovered among farming companies in southern Italy, police announced on Monday.
The companies under investigation allegedly drew up contracts with fictitious employees, in order to claim benefits and repayments to which they were not entitled from the Italian Social Security Institute (INPS).
The police searched the premises of several agricultural firms in the southeastern provinces of Bari, Brindisi, Foggia, Taranto and Matera, and found at least 831 cases of fictitious farmhands in the companies' records.
The farming businesses were able to collect unemployment benefits, maternity benefits or payments for family allowance from the INPS, for each and every one of the false employees.
Overall, the scam cost the state over 10 million euros, according to prosecutors in Bari.
It was not immediately clear how many companies were exactly involved in the alleged fraudulent scheme.
About 100 people were charged with conspiracy to defraud the state, including the firms' owners and dozens of labourers, agricultural entrepreneurs, brokers, and accountants.