Cypriot authorities are searching for a man who allegedly bilked more than 260,000 euros ($354,000) from unemployed Cypriots by promising them non-existent construction jobs in France, police said Saturday.

Phileleftheros newspaper cited police as saying the man, thought to be a Tunisian with fake Greek identity papers, had set up a bogus employment agency in the coastal city of Larnaca.

It said police are awaiting confirmation from the Tunisian authorities about the identity of the suspect, against whom there is an arrest warrant in five countries, including Cyprus.

Police confirmed Saturday that, with the help of Interpol, they are looking for an unnamed suspect and have already taken a 100 witness statements in the case.

At least 423 people are said to have paid 620 euros each in exchange for work in Lille, France, forking out a total 262,260 euros.

They had allegedly been promised one-way plane tickets to France, a few days’ worth of hotel stay and a salary of 1,000 euros a month.

The state recently repatriated 72 people who found them stuck in France after falling for the scam, police said.

Cyprus is suffering from an unprecedented recession, which has been exacerbated by austerity measures imposed as part of a deal under which the European Union and IMF gave the country a 10 billion euro loan to keep it from bankruptcy.

Record unemployment is hovering at around 17 percent, while the jobless rate for those under 24 is 40 percent.

The popular holiday and retirement island once had a booming construction sector.

According to the latest IMF forecasts, GDP will plunge by 8.7 percent this year and 3.9 percent in 2014, before posting modest growth n 2015


Global Post

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