It seems that the swindlers saw the period of the pandemic as an opportunity to treasure. In 2020, millions of counterfeit or poor quality products related to protection were confiscated in the EU Covid-19 (face masks, hand sanitizers and diagnostic tests) says the European Anti-Fraud Office (Olaf) in its annual report.
«The new fraud opportunities that have arisen with the advent of the virus – in particular the highly lucrative marketing of counterfeit or poor quality products, such as face masks or hand sanitizers – have posed new challenges for OLAF in 2020“, Pointed out the general director of OLAF Ville Itala according to what is broadcast by the Athens News Agency.
«Even before the first vaccines were given, OLAF helped coordinate with national authorities and the pharmaceutical industry to raise awareness of the risk of counterfeit vaccines – when fraudsters tried to exploit fears of delays in vaccine supplies by offering discounted supplies.He underlined.
In particular, OLAF investigations into the EU in 2020 identified more than 1,000 suspects and helped seize 2.4 million poor-quality face masks, 31,500 fake tests and 140,000 liters of hand sanitizer.
Also, following a warning sent by the Danish authorities, about 140,000 liters of counterfeit hand sanitizer from Turkey containing a dangerous amount of methanol – a toxic substance for human health – were confiscated in various EU countries.
Moreover, as in previous years, one of the main trends identified by OLAF in 2020 was the manipulation of procurement and bidding procedures for the purpose of extorting EU funds. Fraud mechanisms often extend to more than one Member State and involve complex mechanisms for money laundering. In a case involving Romania, Italy, Belgium and Spain, OLAF recommended the recovery of € 25 million. Funds for road infrastructure were legitimized through interconnected companies and payments for virtual services. According to OLAF, the award was made mainly due to suspicious connections within the national authorities.
Another area that remained OLAF ‘s focus was the environment. OLAF was involved in the seizure of illegal pesticides and helped prevent the importation of several tonnes of illicit refrigerant (hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs)) into the EU.
Many of the smuggled or counterfeit products targeted by OLAF each year are tobacco products. In 2020, OLAF and its partners seized a total of almost 370 million third-country cigarettes destined for illicit sale in the EU. tobacco and more than 200 arrests, while avoiding financial losses estimated at 80 million euros.
In 2020, Olaf completed 230 fraud investigations, issued 375 recommendations to national and European authorities and recommended recoveries totaling € 293.4 million in the EU budget. The office will now work with the newly established European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). which took office on 1 June and is also responsible for fraud, with the difference that it also has the power to prosecute.