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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

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany. 

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