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FRAUD

Germany probes Covid-19 testing centres for fraud

Prosecutors in several German regions have launched probes of companies offering free Covid-19 tests after news reports said that some were padding their numbers to claim more money from the government.

Germany probes Covid-19 testing centres for fraud
People queue in front of a Covid-19 rapid antigen test centre at Castle Square in Stuttgart, southern Germany, on May 26th, 2021, amid the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. (Photo by THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP)

Prosecutors raided a company in the northwestern city of Bochum on Friday, according to the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper, while farther north in
Lübeck, prosecutors have opened a fraud probe, the WirtschaftsWoche weekly said.

In Cologne, authorities carried out a surprise control of a testing centre, and the city of Munster has revoked the licence of a company that operates around 50 testing centres.

In an effort to boost Covid-19 testing, the German government made testing free several weeks ago, reimbursing companies up to 18 euros ($22) for each test conducted.

But according to a joint investigation by several media companies, the testing centres do not have to furnish any documents to prove how many people they’ve tested when filing for government compensation and several have been inflating the figures.

“They just have to send the number of tests (carried out), without any proof, and they are wired the money soon after,” according to a joint investigation by NDR and WDR public television and Süddeutsche Zeitung.

READ ALSO: Germany’s free Covid-19 testing system ‘opens up potential for fraud’
READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: What you need to know about rapid Covid testing around Germany

As part of the effort, journalists counted the number of people who had come into the testing centres and then compared these numbers to what the establishments submitted to the government to get reimbursed.

According to the investigation, one centre declared 422 tests, when only around 100 people had come in. Another filed for reimbursement of 1,743 tests done in a single day, when only 550 people had come in.

The number of places offering free Covid-19 tests have mushroomed since the government introduced the free scheme — in the North Rhine-Westphalia region there are currently nearly 8,000 and the capital Berlin has at least 1,200.

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COVID-19

Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany’s spending in pandemic

The German Constitutional Court rejected challenges Tuesday to Berlin's participation in the European Union's coronavirus recovery fund, but expressed some reservations about the massive package.

Court turns down AfD-led challenge to Germany's spending in pandemic

Germany last year ratified the €750-billion ($790-billion) fund, which offers loans and grants to EU countries hit hardest by the pandemic.

The court in Karlsruhe ruled on two challenges, one submitted by a former founder of the far-right AfD party, and the other by a businessman.

They argued the fund could ultimately lead to Germany, Europe’s biggest economy, having to take on the debts of other EU member states on a permanent basis.

But the Constitutional Court judges ruled the EU measure does not violate Germany’s Basic Law, which forbids the government from sharing other countries’ debts.

READ ALSO: Germany plans return to debt-limit rules in 2023

The judgement noted the government had stressed that the plan was “intended to be a one-time instrument in reaction to an unprecedented crisis”.

It also noted that the German parliament retains “sufficient influence in the decision-making process as to how the funds provided will be used”.

The judges, who ruled six to one against the challenges, did however express some reservations.

They questioned whether paying out such a large amount over the planned period – until 2026 – could really be considered “an exceptional measure” to fight the pandemic.

At least 37 percent of the funds are aimed at achieving climate targets, the judges said, noting it was hard to see a link between combating global warming and the pandemic.

READ ALSO: Germany to fast-track disputed €200 billion energy fund

They also warned against any permanent mechanism that could lead to EU members taking on joint liability over the long term.

Berenberg Bank economist Holger Schmieding said the ruling had “raised serious doubts whether the joint issuance to finance the fund is in line with” EU treaties.

“The German court — once again — emphasised German limits for EU fiscal integration,” he said.

The court had already thrown out a legal challenge, in April 2021, that had initially stopped Berlin from ratifying the financial package.

Along with French President Emmanuel Macron, then chancellor Angela Merkel sketched out the fund in 2020, which eventually was agreed by the EU’s 27 members in December.

The first funds were disbursed in summer 2021, with the most given to Italy and Spain, both hit hard by the pandemic.

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