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Benefits scam: Greek ex-cop invented 19 kids

ATHENS -- A former police officer who invented 19 fictional offspring to claim benefits for what would have been the largest family in Greece has been arrested for fraud, police said.

The divorced man, who has no children of his own, quit his 1,000-euro-a-month ($1,300) job in 2001 and has been living solely on benefits ever since, police said Thursday.

Using photographs of children he found online, the 54-year-old forged birth certificates and other documents needed to claim benefits for at least one child a year since 1996.

Police estimate he made at least 150,000 euros in claims over 15 years, but the actual amount is probably much higher.

Authorities only realized something was amiss when they noticed his was the only Greek family with that many children, police said. The average Greek family usually has two or three children.

"We have never seen (a scam) like this before," said a police official who declined to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the press.

The former police officer, who under Greek law cannot be named, was arrested Wednesday as he was about to collect 8,000 euros in benefits from an Athens branch of Greece's employment agency OAED. He was taken to the prosecutor's office Thursday.

Widespread fraud, a generous welfare state and a notoriously inefficient public sector have been blamed as root causes of Greece's financial trouble that threatens to break apart the euro zone.

A team of tax investigators recently discovered that a seemingly humble Greek farmer on the island of Thasos, who owned a red Ferrari and a Porsche, was in fact into loan sharking.

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