June 9, 2008 / 4:45 PM / 11 years ago

Italy police arrest doctors in fraud and murder inquiry

MILAN (Reuters) - Police have arrested 14 suspects in an investigation into fraud and murder at a Milan health clinic where prosecutors say doctors performed unnecessary surgery to get more money from insurers.

Nearly all of the suspects are doctors linked to a private clinic in a northeastern middle-class district of the city, Riccardo Rapanotti, head of Milan’s finance police in charge of the investigation, said on Monday.

Over a two-year period, the suspects falsified medical files to defraud insurers of about 2.5 million euros (1.98 million pounds), he said.

At least five patients died after unnecessary surgery performed at the clinic, he said, adding that the doctors disregarded risks posed by their old age or fragile health.

Examples included the removal of lungs for tuberculosis and the removal of the entire breast for a simple cyst, he said. One victim who underwent the mastectomy was 18 years old.

“In many cases they (the doctors) spoke of the patient with contempt (considering him or her) as a money machine,” he told a news conference, explaining that part of the evidence came from wiretaps.

The charges that the suspects could face when the investigation is finished include insurance fraud and — at least for three of them — murder.

Two of the suspects have been put in prison and 12 others under house arrest, he said. Four more suspects are being investigated but are not in custody.

The Istituto Clinico Santa Rita clinic posted a statement on its Web site saying it knew nothing of the case apart from what had been reported in the media.

The issue of wiretapping came into the spotlight this week after Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi angered magistrates by proposing to restrict wiretaps to probes into terrorism or organised crime.

Reporting by Sara Rossi; writing by Gilles Castonguay

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