NRW falls victim to multi-million-euro mask fraud scheme
It emerged on Tuesday that the state of North Rhine Westphalia has fallen victim to a multi-million-euro fraud scheme involving protective face masks.
North Rhine-Westphalia pays 14,7 million euros for nonexistent masks
According to information from the public prosecutor and the police in Bavaria, back in March state authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia paid 14,7 million euros for a shipment of 10 million masks, only to discover that they did not exist.
The transaction was due to take place via two distribution companies based in Zurich and Hamburg. The German managing director had received an offer from companies allegedly based in Asia to supply the masks and had managed to procure a mass order from authorities in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Germany’s most populous state, which is also one of the hardest-hit by the ongoing coronavirus crisis, paid the full sum to the distribution company, who in turn transferred an advance payment of 2,4 million euros to the provider.
According to Bavarian investigators, 52 vehicles had been made available to pick up the masks in the Netherlands and bring them back to Bavaria under police protection. But the delivery never arrived. It was only then that the managing director of the distribution companies realised he had been tricked and filed a complaint.
Most of the money has been returned
Investigators managed to “freeze” the 2,4 million euros in foreign bank accounts, but it is still unclear whether the money can be recovered. The remaining 12,3 million euros has already been returned to North Rhine-Westphalia.
In a statement, NRW Health Minister said, “The process shows: The market for protective equipment has essentially collapsed and instead Wild West manners and criminal machinations are ruling.”