Greece's island of the 'blind' revealed
Nearly 2 per cent of people on the Ionian island of Zakynthos claimed they were blind.
EVEN by the extravagant standards of Greek corruption, the scam uncovered by Stelios Bozikis is so brazen it is hard to credit.
Nearly 600 people on the Ionian island of Zakynthos - where Mr Bozikis was recently elected mayor - had themselves falsely declared blind to obtain state benefits.
They included taxi drivers, shopkeepers and restaurant owners. ''Out of 650 registered blind people on the island, we estimate that at least 600 are fraudulent claims,'' the mayor said. That represents nearly 2 per cent of the island's population of 35,000 - nearly 10 times the average rate of blindness in Europe.
The claimants were receiving monthly payments of at least €350 ($A442). Those who supposedly needed carers received more.
The mayor, a member of the socialist PASOK party, has suspended all benefit payments until it can be independently established who needs a white cane.
The move was met with strong opposition, culminating in a recent council meeting that was stormed by about 50 claimants, who threw eggs and pots of yoghurt at the mayor. ''I consider it a badge of honour,'' said Mr Bozikis.
Known to the Venetians during the heyday of their trading empire as ''the flower of the Levant'', Zakynthos is now mocked as ''the island of the blind'' by the media.
Fraudulent benefit claims, including bogus cases of leprosy, cost Greece €111 million last year, according to the government. Nearly one in six disability allowances were found to be fraudulent.
Mr Bozikis alleged the head ophthalmologist at the local hospital, Nikolaos Vartzelis, falsely diagnosed people as blind in exchange for money.
The claims were allegedly signed off by Dionysios Gasparos, who was governor of the island, in exchange for votes. Both men denied the allegations.
Dr Vartzelis, who stepped down from his post last month, said he had been ''lenient but within the limits of the law'' towards people who ''didn't have bread to eat''.
He accused the mayor of ''political games'' to undermine Mr Gasparos, of the conservative New Democracy party.