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INTERPOL links N210m face mask fraud to Nigeria

The International Criminal Police Organisation (INTERPOL) has announced the arrest of suspects involved in a face-mask fraud scheme.

The organisation disclosed that part of the money, nearly €500,000 (N210million), “had already been sent to the United Kingdom, all of which was destined for an account in Nigeria.”

Compromised emails were uncovered by financial institutions and authorities across Germany, Ireland and the Netherlands.

INTERPOL, in a statement on its website, recalled that in mid-March, as countries went into lockdown due to COVID-19, Germany contracted two sales companies in Zurich and Hamburg to procure EUR 15 million worth of face masks.

A company initially claimed to have 10 million masks, failed to deliver, then referred the buyers to a ‘trusted’ dealer in Ireland.

The Irish middleman promised to put them in touch with a different supplier in the Netherlands. The man assured that the alleged Dutch company would be able to supply the 10 million face masks.

An agreement for an initial delivery of 1.5 million masks and an up-front payment of EUR 1.5 million was reached.

The buyers afterwards initiated a bank transfer to Ireland and prepared for delivery, which involved 52 lorries to transport the masks from a warehouse in the Netherlands to Germany.

But before the delivery date, the buyers were informed that the funds had not been received and that an emergency transfer of EUR 880,000 straight to the Dutch supplier was required to secure the merchandise.

As INTERPOL contacted its National Central Bureau in Dublin as well as the Irish bank, the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau froze the 1.5 million in the account.

“The Dutch Fiscal Information and Investigation Service quickly tracked down the EUR 880,000 which had been transferred from the German company”, the organisation said.

Jürgen Stock, INTERPOL Secretary General, noted that those arrested had no connections to the medical equipment industry.

“They were simply experienced fraudsters who saw an opportunity with the outbreak of COVID-19. They adapted their sales pitches to take advantage of strained supply chains and generate huge profits.

“I can only salute the quick work of both the private and public authorities involved. INTERPOL will continue its work on the case – and the many others like it – in close cooperation with all of our partners”, he added.

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