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Coronavirus aid: Germany investigating thousands of suspected fraud cases

The German government has been supporting businesses and freelancers with financial aid during the coronavirus pandemic. But now investigators are probing several thousand fraud cases.

Coronavirus aid: Germany investigating thousands of suspected fraud cases
Photo: DPA

Fake websites, phishing emails and false statements: many fraudsters have been using these kinds of tactics to profit from the financial aid given out by Germany to help businesses and freelancers survive the coronavirus crisis.

And it's now emerged that investigators are probing thousands of suspected fraud cases nationwide connected to Germany's Corona-Soforthilfe-Zuschuss (coronavirus emergency aid grant).

In total, authorities are dealing with at least 5,100 suspected cases of subsidy fraud, money laundering, falsification of evidence-relevant information and spying on data, research by DPA reporters revealed.

At the end of May there were about 2,200 cases, but this number has crept up as more fraudulent activity comes to light.

Authorities across Germany said that the numbers were changing almost daily, indicating the dynamic situation.

READ ALSO: Is Germany doing enough to ensure small businesses survive the coronavirus crisis?

However, the figures from all 16 states are not fully known at this point. The state office of criminal investigation in North Rhine-Westphalia, for example, was unable to provide any concrete information before investigations have been concluded.

Meanwhile, the amount of money that states are losing to scammers isn't clear yet either as many authorities said they'll have to wait until their investigations are complete.

According to DPA research, however, the amount could be at least €22 million nationwide.

How is Germany supporting businesses and the self-employed?

Germany was one of the first countries in Europe to set up large aid programmes for businesses affected by the coronavirus pandemic, which is set to push the country into the “worst recession” in post-war history, according to Economy Minister Peter Altmaier.

The German government put together a €600 billion bailout fund for large companies, a state-backed scheme offering quick loans of up to €500,000 to small and medium-sized enterprises, and a €50 billion hardship fund to give grants to small businesses, the self-employed and freelancers. Crucially these hand outs don't need to be paid back.

As Germany is a federal country, individual states also set up their own schemes, sometimes with differing criteria and conditions. Some states were praised for giving out cash quickly. In Berlin, for example, aid was paid out in some cases in just 24-48 hours.

There was evidence early on that scammers had been trying to hijack the aid programme.

In one instance, the government of North Rhine-Westphalia was forced to suspend its aid programme for a week after discovering that criminals were exploiting it to divert hundreds of thousands of euros into their own pockets.

Vocabulary

Subsidy fraud – (der) Subventionsbetrug

Money laundering (die) Geldwäsche

Investigations – (die) Ermittlungen

Suspected cases – (die) Verdachtsfälle

We're aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

 

Member comments

  1. You say the Government is supporting Freelancers, but this is not the case in the NRW. The € 2,000 was “first come, first served”, and the € 9,000 loan could ONLY be used for Business costs, not for food, rent etc. Some States were fair, some not. You should really investigate & do an article on it. Many of my Freelance friends had to go on Hartz IV as they got ZERO support.

  2. If they were able to investigate the amount of money spent on drugs in Berlin before and after the aid was paid, they’d be in for a serious surprise 😉

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COVID-19

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.

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