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The National Insurance Institute is ready to file indictments against 150 people in the north who receive income-support benefits, based on evidence that they defrauded the NII and received funds for which they were ineligible.

NII director-general Dr. Yigal Ben Shalom said yesterday that this indictment is unprecedented in scope, and added that as many as 150 other indictments could follow. The economic crimes unit, which the Finance Ministry recently established, will make the formal indictments.

"We uncovered two operations, one in the Galilee and the other in Netanya, involved in manufacturing documents through which ineligible citizens illegally obtained income support benefits," says Ben Shalom, who explained that the NII investigates 30 percent of all suspicious claims. Some 7,000 out of a total of 150,000 citizens who receive income-support benefits manage to defraud the NII and do not meet the required criteria each year, he estimated.

Ben Shalom conceded that the NII could not efficiently deal with all the swindlers. "When we try to take deterrent steps against offenders, so-called socially oriented Knesset members rise up to neutralize us," he complained.

At the same time, he noted, along with the cheaters are 40,000 recipients of income support who are unemployed against their will. Ben Shalom called for altering the law to allow those who receive income payments and find work to continue receiving the funds for a limited time until they are properly integrated into the work force.