France investigates millions of fraud linked to unemployment by virus

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PARIS (AP) – Organized crime groups have attempted to defraud the French state of millions of euros intended for unemployed workers because of the virus lockup, prosecutors announced Friday. France had an exceptionally generous temporary unemployment program that subsidized workers’ wages while restaurants, schools and businesses in the economy closed for two months or more to contain the virus.

Criminals took advantage of it, successfully obtaining more than 2 million euros from the state which did not go to the workers, the Paris prosecutor’s office said in a statement. So far, authorities have been able to suspend an additional 6 million euros in planned payments and recover 421,000 euros already spent on non-existent workers, the statement said.

The Paris prosecution is currently conducting a national investigation into what it calls “massive fraud” and money laundering by organized crime groups it has not identified. He studies in particular the potential international links with fraud.

Prosecutors in the city of Toulouse in the south of the country and Limoges in central France began by investigating an unusually high number of similar requests from companies in the temporary unemployment fund. Investigators found that the applicants used the business registration numbers of companies that did not request state wage subsidies and channeled the money to hundreds of French bank accounts rather than workers.

France has spent billions of euros on the temporary unemployment program, which has been credited with keeping employees and allowing companies to stay afloat during the closure. The economy has started to recover with the gradual reopening of France, but tourism is muted and many businesses are struggling to recover, and the country is still facing its worst recession in decades.

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