By Agence France-Presse
Authorities in Germany have fallen victim to millions of dollars of fraud involving masks that are badly needed in the coronavirus pandemic, prosecutors said Tuesday.
North Rhine-Westphalia, the most populous state in Germany and one of the hardest hit, paid 14.7 million euros for around 10 million masks in March only to find out they didn’t exist, according to prosecutors in Traunstein, Bavaria.
The German managing director of two distribution companies based in Zurich and Hamburg raised the alarm after realizing that he had been cheated.
According to the man’s police report, he received an offer from a company suspected of being based in Asia in mid-March to supply masks and then withdraw large orders from North Rhine-Westphalia.
The state authority transferred 14.7 million euros to the company, which then paid an advance of 2.4 million euros.
According to Bavarian investigators, 52 vehicles had been prepared to take the mask that was desirable in the Netherlands and send it under police protection.
Distribution companies have returned 12.3 million euros to state authorities.
However, it is still unclear whether the remaining 2.4 million euros, which have been frozen in foreign bank accounts, can be recovered.
Masks and other protective medical equipment have become a hot commodity worldwide because they are needed by tens of thousands of health workers at the forefront of the war against COVID-19.
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday the lesson to be learned from this pandemic is that Europe needs to develop independence in the production of critical medical equipment such as masks.
“Despite the fact that this market is currently installed in Asia … we need certain self-sufficiency, or at least our own pillars of manufacture” in Germany or elsewhere in the European Union, Merkel told reporters in Berlin.
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