TORONTO (Reuters) - A group of Canadian co-workers will finally receive C$5.75 million ($5.75 million) in prize money, three years after their winning lottery ticket was allegedly stolen and cashed in by a retailer.
Ontario Lottery and Gaming Corp said on Wednesday that it would pay the prize, plus about C$800,000 in interest, to the group after the provincial agency concluded the ticket had been claimed by someone else.
Earlier on Wednesday, police laid theft and fraud charges against a former lottery-ticket seller, accusing him of stealing a ticket and claiming the prize for himself.
The OLG, which runs lotteries in the province of Ontario, said it had received a complaint from the group in July. The agency, which has been sharply criticized for lax monitoring of wins by ticket vendors, launched its own investigation and referred the case to the Ontario Provincial Police.
Police said on Wednesday that the winning ticket had belonged to a group of four people who took it to a retailer to have it checked. Police said the retailer did not reveal that they had won, and later collected the prize money.
"In this case, the four rightful owners were deprived of lottery winnings that would have changed their lives," Chief Superintendent Bob Goodall told a news conference.
Police said that the Lotto 6/49 ticket was purchased in June 2004 and the prize was claimed in January of the following year. About C$5 million in assets belonging to the accused have been seized.
Police said the retailer had operated a small convenience store in Toronto, which is no longer in business.
The investigation is part of a broader police probe into fraudulent lottery prize claims made by retailers and their employees between 1999 and 2006.
In March, Ontario's ombudsman released the report of a separate investigation into such insider wins. The report found the OLG was not only aware of the problem of insider fraud, it knew that the measures it had in place to prevent it were "woefully inadequate."
According to the report, the lottery corporation confirmed that from 1999 to November 2006, at least 78 retail owners and 131 retail employees had scored major lottery prizes, as well as thousands of smaller prizes.
"Certainly, many of these wins are legitimate, but it is equally clear that millions of dollars have been paid out in what are dishonest claims," the report said.
Police said on Wednesday they had reviewed cases of insider wins following the report and currently have four still under investigation. The OPP said the cases involve large amounts of money, with some more than C$1 million.
The man accused in Wednesday's case, Hafiz Zulqarnain Malik, aged 60, was scheduled to appear before an Ontario court.
Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by Rob Wilson