BERLIN: German authorities have been victims of multi-million euro fraud involving masks essential to the coronavirus pandemic, prosecutors said on Tuesday (April 7th).
North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous state in Germany and one of the hardest hit, paid 14.7 million euros for some 10 million masks in March alone only to find that they didn’t did not exist, according to prosecutors in Traunstein, Bavaria.
The German managing director of two distribution companies based in Zurich and Hamburg sounded the alarm after realizing that he had been cheated.
According to the man’s police report, he received an offer in mid-March from companies allegedly based in Asia to supply the masks, and subsequently attracted the big order from North Rhine-Westphalia.
State authorities transferred 14.7 million euros to the company, which then made a deposit of 2.4 million euros.
According to the Bavarian investigators, 52 vehicles had been lined up to recover the coveted masks in the Netherlands and deliver them under police protection.
The distribution company reimbursed 12.3 million euros to state authorities.
However, it is not certain that the remaining 2.4 million euros, which have been frozen in foreign bank accounts, can be recovered.
Masks and other medical protective equipment have become essential items worldwide as they are required by tens of thousands of health workers on the front lines of the war against COVID-19.
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Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Monday that a lesson to be learned from the pandemic was that Europe needed to develop self-sufficiency in the production of essential medical equipment such as masks.
“Regardless of the fact that this market is currently installed in Asia … we need some self-sufficiency, or at least a pillar of our own manufacturing” in Germany or elsewhere in the European Union, Merkel told reporters at Berlin.
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