SHARE
COPY LINK

CRIME

Europol thwarts fake face mask sale to Germany

European police have foiled an attempt to cheat German health authorities out of millions of euros by selling them non-existent face masks during the coronavirus pandemic, Europol said Tuesday.

Europol thwarts fake face mask sale to Germany
Mask from the company Ber-Bek in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Photo: DPA

Police action in two countries came as Germany moved towards the progressive lifting of restrictions against COVID-19 which has claimed around 3,000 lives in the country.

Experts say however that any easing would be accompanied by an obligation
to wear a face mask while using public transport, to prevent a resurgence of infections.

Europol said two companies were contracted by the German government in mid-March to buy face masks valued at €15 million as global stocks ran low.

After a sale failed to materialise off a website supposedly based in Spain, the two companies were referred to a 'trusted” dealer in Ireland.

READ ALSO: 'Modern-day piracy': German official says US swooped on masks at airport

“The Irish middleman promised to put them in touch with a different supplier, this time in the Netherlands,” who could supply the masks, Europol said.

An initial deal was made in which the companies paid €1.5 million for the delivery of 1.5 million masks.

“The buyers initiated a bank transfer to Ireland and prepared for delivery, which involved 52 lorries and a police escort to transport the masks from a warehouse in the Netherlands to the final destination in Germany,” Europol said.

However, just before the delivery was due, the criminals said they needed another €800,000 “in order to secure the merchandise”.

The buyers sent the wire transfer but the masks never arrived.

“It turns out the Dutch company existed, but their website had been cloned. There was no official record of the order,” Europol said.

Police and law enforcement agencies including Europol and Interpol quickly scrambled in a race to recover the money.

The Irish police's Economic Crimes Bureau on a tip-off from Interpol froze €1.5 million in an account in an Irish bank and identified an Irish company involved.

The Dutch Fiscal Information and Investigation Service (FIOD) tracked down
the €800,000 — of which 500,000 had already been paid into a British bank account, destined for an account in Nigeria.

Thanks to an alert raised by investigators, the British bank was able to recall the full amount.

Those funds have now been returned to the Netherlands and frozen by authorities.

Dutch police arrested two suspects in the ongoing probe, Europol said.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members

POLICE

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Germany is known for having some of the world’s strictest gun laws, but shooting incidents continue to cause concern.

EXPLAINED: What you need to know about gun laws in Germany

Is it difficult to get a gun in Germany?

To get a gun in Germany you firstly have to obtain a firearms ownership license (Waffenbesitzkarte) – and you may need a different one for each weapon you buy – or a license to carry (Waffenschein).

Applicants for a license must be at least 18-years-old and undergo what’s called a reliability check. This includes checking for criminal records, whether the person is an alcohol or drug addict, whether they have a mental illness or any other attributes that might make them owning a gun a potential concern for authorities.

They also have to pass a “specialised knowledge test” on guns and people younger than 25 applying for their first license must go through a psychiatric evaluation.

Crucially, applicants must also prove a specific and approved “need“ for the weapon, which is mainly limited to use by hunters, competitive marksmen, collectors and security workers – not for self-defence.

Once you have a license, you’re also limited in the number of and kinds of guns you may own, depending on what kind of license you have: Fully automatic weapons are banned for everyone, while semiautomatic firearms are banned for anything other than hunting or competitive shooting.

A revolver lies on an application for the issuance of a firearms license. Photo: picture alliance / Carsten Rehder/dpa | Carsten Rehder

How many legal guns are there in Germany? 

According to the latest figures from the Federal Ministry of the Interior, as of May 31st, 2022, there were 5.018,963 registered guns in Germany, and 946,546 gun owners entered in the National Weapons Register (NWR).

Where are the most guns in Germany?

Most legal guns are found in rural areas and are used in hunting or shooting sports. Guns are also more widespread in the western States than in the states that make up the former East Germany, where private gun ownership was extremely limited. 

READ ALSO: German prosecutors say poaching led to double police murder

What about undocumented guns in Germany?

One problem in Germany is so-called ‘old’ weapons. It’s impossible to estimate how many weapons from the two world wars are still in circulation and such antiques have appeared in a number of high-profile incidents in the last few years.

The pistol hidden in a Vienna airport by Bundeswehr officer Franco A was a Unique pistol from 1917 and the 2007 murder of a police officer in Heilbronn involved a Wehrmacht pistol. 

In 2009, around 200,000 weapons were returned in a gun amnesty, but it is still unclear how many illegal weapons are still out there.

Does Germany have a gun violence problem?

Gun crime is relatively rare in Germany, which has some of the strictest gun laws in Europe and, according to the latest figures from the Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), gun-related crimes in Germany are decreasing.

In 2021, there were 9.8 percent fewer crimes committed with a firearm than the previous year, while the number of cases recorded by the police in which a firearm was used to threaten fell by 11.2 percent. Shots were fired in 4,074 of the total number of recorded cases, down 8.5 percent from 2021.

An armored weapons cabinet filled with long guns. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Friso Gentsch

Despite this, there have been several mass shootings within the past two decades, which have had a big impact on public consciousness and on gun control policy. 

Between 2002 and 2009 there were three major incidents of young men carrying out shootings at their former high schools and, in 2020, a racially motivated gunman shot and killed 11 people and injured numerous others in an attack on two shisha bars in Hanau. The perpetrator was allowed to legally possess firearms, although he had previously sent letters with right-wing extremist content to authorities.

Recently there were also shootings at Heidelberg University in southwestern Germany and at a supermarket in Schwalmstadt in Hesse.

Are German gun laws about to change?

The German parliament reacted to the mass shooting incidents in the early 2000s by tightening the gun laws, and, in the wake of the Hanau attack, a new amendment is in the works, which aims to shift focus towards monitoring gun owners with extremist, right-wing views.

READ ALSO: Germany marks a year since deadly racist shooting in Hanau

In December 2021, Federal Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (SPD) announced her intention to further tighten gun laws, as part of a plan to tackle right-wing extremism.

The authorities in charge of the protection of the constitution have been warning for some time that neo-Nazis are deliberately joining shooting clubs to obtain guns and the Federal Ministry of the Interior reports that 1.500 suspected right-wing extremists among legal gun owners.

Campaigners say more needs to be done to stop gun crime. 

Dagmar Ellerbrock, a historian and expert on weapons history at the Technical University of Dresden said: “It is high time that we try to at least make it more difficult for these political groups to find their way through the shooting associations.”

SHOW COMMENTS