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Greek 'island of the blind'? More like 'island of welfare cheats'

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The mayor has accused two men of being behind the fraud – the former governor of the island of Zakynthos, who was in power from 1998 until 2010, and the chief ophthalmologist at the local hospital. They are accused of falsely registering islanders as blind in return for bribes and votes in elections. Both deny the charges, which are the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Greek health ministry.

The tradition of 'little envelopes'

Abuses include farmers drawing billions of euros from the European Union in fraudulent subsidy claims, people claiming pensions for relatives who have long since died, and women who have never had children receiving multiple maternity benefit payments.

The wheels of corruption are oiled by the long-standing practice of Greeks offering fakelaki – which translates literally as "little envelope" but in reality means a bribe – to public officials for everything from construction permits to medical operations. Deeply entrenched in the Greek psyche, it is a system of favors that dates back to the country’s centuries of Ottoman rule.

“The long‐standing acceptance of corruption, and fatalism about the chances of preventing or resisting it, drives petty wrongdoing,” the Berlin-based anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International said in its most recent report on Greece.

“When people believe that their leaders and officials exploit their authority with impunity, they are more likely to act along similar lines in their own lives.”

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