Fraudsters ‘offering’ vaccines, warns EU agency

Published March 2, 2021
Vials with a sticker reading, "Covid-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only" are seen in front of displayed pound banknotes with Queen Elizabeth and masks in this illustration. — Reuters/File
Vials with a sticker reading, "Covid-19 / Coronavirus vaccine / Injection only" are seen in front of displayed pound banknotes with Queen Elizabeth and masks in this illustration. — Reuters/File

BRUSSELS: Dubious intermediaries have offered governments across the European Union a total of about one billion non-existent Covid vaccine doses worth about 14 billion euros, the bloc’s anti-fraud agency said on Monday.

Such middlemen are asking for advance payments and giving no delivery details, Ville Itala, the head of the European anti-fraud office OLAF, said, stressing that pharmaceutical companies insist they sell directly to governments. “It’s quite massive,” he added.

“They send an offer, which is not a real one. In fact, there is as such no vaccines attached to the offer from what we have seen so far,” he said.

The scams OLAF was investigating came from both professional criminals and individual opportunists tied in a long chain of intermediaries often leading outside the EU, Itala said.

In Italy, authorities said they were investigating an offer for vaccines made by unnamed intermediaries to regional authorities amid warnings of growing vaccine fraud.

Itala said OLAF was not yet aware of counterfeit vaccines being pushed on the EU market, but that was bound to come: “Where there is a lot of money, the fraudsters find their way there.

“There can be financial consequences. But there is also another aspect _ trust of the people. That’s why it’s important now to prevent this, so that people can trust that if they go to take the vaccine, they are the real ones,” he said.

The EU anti-fraud office was working with EU governments, law enforcement agencies and pharmaceutical companies to bring criminals to justice, though it was not aware for now of an EU government falling for such scams.

Increasing fraud adds to problems in the EU’s botched inoculation campaign, which has been marred by cuts in promised deliveries, roll-out delays and some social resistance, especially to the AstraZeneca shot.

Published in Dawn, March 2nd, 2021

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