Around two dozen companies and private homes are being searched by the police and public prosecutors in a large-scale operation in four federal states. Five main suspects are said to have cheated with Corona aid.

Systematically, suspected fraudsters in four federal states are said to have incorrectly billed emergency and bridging aid during the corona pandemic, causing damage in the millions.

Because of the suspicion of gang fraud, the police and public prosecutor’s office searched 25 objects belonging to five main suspects in Lower Saxony, North Rhine-Westphalia, Schleswig-Holstein and Hamburg in a large-scale operation on Tuesday – with more than half of the searches, the focus of the operation was in East Frisia Lower Saxony, as Marco Ellermann, spokesman for the Osnabrück police department, told the German Press Agency. Around 120 forces and also sniffer dogs were deployed.

Suspicion of a criminal network

In addition to companies and private homes, a privately operated sports hall in the East Frisian town of Wiesmoor was also searched. Officials carried moving boxes and screens out of the hall in the morning and loaded them into emergency vehicles. As the “Spiegel” and the “Ostfriesen-Zeitung” reported, the hall is said to be the seat of a consulting company whose operator is at the center of the investigation. The police gave no further information about him and the four other main suspects between the ages of 26 and 62. Nobody was arrested. But: “There is a suspicion that this is a suspected criminal network,” said Ellermann.

The men are suspected of spending a total of around 26 million euros in Lower Saxony and other federal states for their own purposes and for commissioned companies during the corona pandemic with “deliberately false information” in 104 cases in the Corona emergency aid and in 259 cases in the subsequent bridging aid to have requested. The police spokesman said that it was still being determined exactly how high the amount of allegedly illegal payments was and to what extent the commissioned small companies knew about it. However, the investigators are already assuming an alleged damage of several million euros.

Cross-border cooperation

During the searches in Hamburg, Neumünster, Bonn, Oldenburg, Aurich, Wiesmoor and other communities in East Friesland, the officers secured bills, digital storage media, mobile devices, cash and high-quality watches. In addition, asset arrests in the amount of 3.5 million euros were issued.

Lower Saxony’s Minister of the Interior, Boris Pistorius, said in a statement that intensive and cross-state police work had led to success in the extensive process. “Especially in recent years, many companies and people have been dependent on government aid programs due to the pandemic. It is therefore particularly despicable when individuals try to take advantage of these programs in order to unlawfully enrich themselves,” said the SPD politician. “In this context, it is particularly important to me to prosecute these few and to recover the funds obtained.”

The President of the Osnabrück Police Headquarters, Michael Maßmann, also rated the operation as an investigative success. «We have succeeded in breaking up a suspected criminal network in the field of subsidy fraud. We were able to save the Treasury from a large million-dollar damage,” said Maßmann.

The rooms of a 31-year-old woman from Aurich were also searched during the operation on Tuesday. Proceedings are already underway against them for commercial billing fraud. As the operator of several corona test stations, she is said to have billed the Lower Saxony Association of Statutory Health Insurance Physicians for tests that were not carried out, causing damage of more than one million euros. That is why the police and public prosecutor’s office had already searched several properties in Aurich, Hanover and Oldenburg at the end of March. It is still unclear to what extent she is involved in the new fraud cases. The woman plays a role in the process, but she is not the main suspect, said police spokesman Ellermann.

According to the police, the investigations, which are being conducted by the Osnabrück Central Criminal Inspectorate and the Oldenburg public prosecutor’s office, started rolling in April 2020 with suspicious activity reports from a Lower Saxony development bank. This led to the searches.