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Government Might Forgive Handicap Pension Fakers

August 26, 1994

ROME (AP) _ The government may be willing to forgive, but the citizenry is vengeful when it comes to the three million Italians suspected of pulling pensions for disabilities they don’t suffer.

Struggling with a $100 billion deficit, Premier Silvio Berlusconi’s government has taken aim at Italy’s bloated pension rolls.

But how far the government will go to stem the fraud remains to be seen.

The National Alliance, a member of Berlusconi’s governing coalition, is proposing amnesty for individuals who admit they’ve been faking it, and go off the dole. In return, they wouldn’t have to pay back the money, and the government would be spared the expense of investigating.

A second coalition partner, the Northern League, indicated Wednesday it might go along with the proposal.

But citizens are taking matters in their hands. They are worried that sparing the fakers might mean the government will turn to other pension reforms, like raising the retirement age or cutting old-age checks.

Government offices in Milan have been deluged with calls from citizens reporting cases of suspected fraud, the Milan daily Il Giornale reported.

″Yesterday a lady told me about her neighbor who pulls a disability check for blindness but drives his car perfectly fine,″ the newspaper quoted Luigi Rivetti, an official in the city’s pension office as saying.

Government-paid doctors also were implicated.

″The doctors checked my vision without even looking me in the eyes,″ 57- year-old Zenoide Tedeschi told the newspaper.

Every so, often a faker gets caught without a tip.

One 51-year-old municipal employee in the Umbrian town of Spoleto lost his monthly payment of more than $600 for blindness when officials learned his driver’s license had been renewed, the Italian news agency AGI reported.

Pension reform began about two years ago, under the Socialist government of Giuliano Amato, but the crackdown has gained steam as experts warn that taxes soon won’t be enough to cover pensions.

Cabinet members have proposed ending ″baby″ pensions, the nickname for the system allowing male public employees to retire after 20 years and women after 15 years. One proposal would make public workers work until age 65.

Union leaders have promised protests in the streets and possibly a boycott of heavily taxed state-manufactured cigarettes if the pensions get the ax.

Many public employees have rushed to retire early while they still can.

Political leaders have backed off a little, indicating those who already earned the right to retire early might be still allowed to do so.

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