ROME (Reuters) - Italy arrested 41 people on Tuesday after uncovering a criminal ring that charged people thousands of euros for illegal entry to the country to work in circuses.
Police said the group used a clause in the immigration law which allows performers, dancers and circus workers to be hired from abroad, provided they get special permission from local authorities.
A married couple of local government officials on the southern island of Sicily obtained false permits for the mainly Indian, Bangladeshi and Pakistani citizens, police said in a statement.
At least 500 people paid the group in a business which raked in about 7 million euros ($7.5 million), police said. Most of the immigrants never actually worked in circuses once they had achieved entry to Italy, they added.
The sums involved are small compared with immigration rackets like the fixing of contracts to manage migrant reception centers that is currently under the spotlight in a major mafia trial underway in Rome.
But Interior Minister Angelino Alfano expressed regret at the latest sign of political corruption in Italy, which global anti-corruption group Transparency International said last month was at an "unbearable" level.
"It is disappointing to keep discovering faultlines in society, in the public administration, that favor nefarious operations," Alfano said in a statement.
More than 18 circuses and numerous show managers used the scheme for income to make up for difficulties in their own businesses, the police statement said.
($1 = 0.9322 euros)
Reporting by Isla Binnie; Editing by Ruth Pitchford