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Gardaí interview Irish citizen over €15 million international Covid-19 scam

The investigation relates to a German company who believed it was buying a large quantity of face masks for the government.

The fraudsters pretended to be selling €15 million worth of face masks.
The fraudsters pretended to be selling €15 million worth of face masks.
Image: Shutterstock/evrymmnt

Updated Apr 14th 2020, 11:50 AM

GARDAÍ HAVE INTERVIEWED an Irish citizen in Roscommon related to the suspected laundering of €1.5 million in this jurisdiction, connected to an international Covid-19 fraud investigation. 

The case involves a German company with offices in Hamburg and Zurich who were contracted by German State officials to purchase 10 million face masks with an approximate value of €15 million. 

These masks were required to help deal with the current pandemic, and the company was forwarded €15 million to purchase the masks.

It had hoped to purchase the masks from a Spanish company it had a good relationship with, but this wasn’t possible given the current demand for face masks.

This German company was then put in contact with a Dutch supplier through an Irish intermediary, and placed an order for 11 million masks. 

However, unknown to the German company, the order was made with a fraudulent entity that had cloned the website and email address of the legitimate Dutch company.

Following contractual talks, a down payment of €1.5 million was paid by the German company to the Irish company’s bank account based in Roscommon for the delivery of the first 7.7 million masks.

A further payment of €880,000 was paid to the fraudulent Dutch company’s bank account.

On 27 March, representatives from the German and Irish companies met in Amsterdam to inspect and oversee the handover of the shipment. This shipment never materialised.

They then attended the offices of the Dutch company and were told that no shipment was ever ordered or assigned.

A joint investigation was launched by authorities in Germany, the Netherlands and Ireland supported by Interpol. 

Prompt action by the Dutch authorities tracked down the €880,000 which had been transferred by the German company. 

Of this, €498,000 was transferred to a UK account and onward to a Nigerian account. This money has been recovered.

A further €125,000 was transferred into another Dutch account.

On 6 April, Dutch police arrested two men for alleged fraud, falsification and money laundering in connection with the €880,000. They appeared in court last Thursday. 

Irish investigators worked to freeze the €1.5 million in the Irish bank account. 

Detectives from the Garda National Economic Crime Bureau interviewed an Irish citizen in Roscommon last Friday related to the suspected laundering of €1.5 million in this jurisdiction, contrary to Section 7 of the Criminal Justice (Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing) Acts 2010 to 2018.

Documents and electronic devices were obtained by gardaí, and these are currently being forensically examined.

Further cyber inquiries uncovered that the scammers had captured the address of a real Dutch company and opened a bank account at the same Dutch bank as the real company in a compromised similar name.

The case initially came to the attention of banks who alerted the relevant authorities in each jurisdiction. Interpol is coordinating the investigation, which remains ongoing. 

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Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Sean O’Rourke programme this morning, Detective Chief Superintendent Pat Lordan said that gardaí became aware of the money in the Irish bank account almost two weeks ago. 

“Working with financial institutions here in Ireland that money was frozen, and that money will be returned to its rightful owner,” he said. 

The company will get the vast majority of its money back, Lordan said. “They’re one of the lucky ones,” he added.

The pandemic, Lordan said, provides “a perfect opportunity” for scammers. 

“We’re seeing these scams every day of the week, Covid-19 or no Covid-19. But every issue in the public domain creates a new opportunity for the criminal,” he said. 

Lordan said that it can be very difficult to work out whether a website is real or not if the scam is sophisticated. 

“We’re seeing more and more websites [...] throughout the world that are not real,” he added. 

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Sean Murray

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