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How true is the claim that €500,000 COVID-19 fraud was traced to Nigeria by Interpol?

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CLAIM: News reports by Kakaaki News, Sahara Reporters, Punch, and some other media outlets have it that €500,000 COVID-19 fraud was traced to Nigeria by Interpol.  

True. The claim that €500,000 COVID-19 fraud was traced to Nigeria is true but it is not a recent development.

Full Text

A news report by Kakaaki news, Sahara Reporters, Punch and some other media outlets, on Tuesday December 29, 2020, claimed that EUR 500,000 COVID-19 fraud was traced to Nigeria by the International Criminal Police Organisation known as Interpol.

According to these reports, this was contained in a statement on the organisation’s website titled “Unmasked: International COVID-19 fraud exposed”.

Screenshot of Kakaaki News report. 

Verification

Dubawa visited Interpol’s site to find this statement and also conducted a keyword search.

 The result of this search showed similar reports on this was published by the Punch on Tuesday, December 29, 2020, and Sahara Reporters on Wednesday, December 30, 2020.

The search also led to a document published on April 14, 2020 on Interpol’s site titled “Unmasked: International COVID-19 fraud exposed” as claimed in the report.

Screenshot of Interpol document on the international COVID-19 fraud.

The document noted that this happened around March when countries were going into Lockdown and the need for face masks which was one of the control measures for COVID-19 was high.

This case of fraud was described as a sophisticated fraud scheme that used compromised emails with payment for the supply of face masks. According to the document, the German health authorities contracted two sales companies in Zurich and Hamburg to procure EUR 15 million worth of face masks. 

An agreement for an initial delivery of 1.5 million masks was made, in exchange for an up-front payment of EUR 1.5 million. The buyers initiated a bank transfer to Ireland and prepared for delivery, 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.

The email address linked to a legitimate company in Spain selling face masks was compromised and its website cloned. This was uncovered by financial institutions and authorities across Germany, Ireland, and the Netherlands.

The document showed that nearly EUR 500,000 of those funds had already been sent to the United Kingdom, all of which was destined for an account in Nigeria.

Two suspects in the Netherlands were arrested as at the time the document was released in April. Subsequently, in September 2020, another report was published on Interpol which indicated that two suspects linked to the mask fraud were arrested in Nigeria.

Dubawa also reached out to Kakaki News, the Punch and Sahara Reporters on Wednesday, December 30, 2020, to enquire why this case of fraud is just being reported since the information has been released by Interpol since April 2020.  As at Thursday morning, December 31, 2020, none of the news sites had responded.

Conclusion 

The claim in the reports by Kakaaki News, Punch and Sahara Reporters that  €500,000 COVID-19 fraud was traced to Nigeria is true as Interpol’s document showed this was part of the €880,000 which had been transferred from the German company to the United Kingdom destined for a Nigerian account. This is however not a recent development as Interpol had published details of this since April 2020.

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