Berlin/Bochum (dpa) – The prosecutor’s office is now investigating the suspicion of billing fraud in corona citizen tests. In one case in the Ruhr area, business premises and private apartments were searched, the Public Prosecution Service in Bochum announced on request.
Federal Health Minister Jens Spahn (CDU) announced “more random checks”. “Whether with masks or tests – anyone who is using the pandemic to criminally enrich themselves should be ashamed of themselves,” the minister wrote in the short message service Twitter. “It is good that the Public Prosecution Service has started an investigation into the individual cases that have become known.”
Incursion into the Ruhr area
The Bochum Prosecutor’s Office for Economic Crime had done this beforehand. A spokesman for the authority of the German news agency in Düsseldorf said the investigation will be conducted against two people in charge of a company in Bochum that operates test sites in different locations. Documents were also seized during the searches. The authority declined to give the name of the suspected company. The reason for the investigation was therefore research by WDR, NDR and “Süddeutscher Zeitung” (SZ).
Spahn pointed out that the vast majority of test site providers “do this with great dedication, very professionally and also very correctly”. The civilian tests have been made possible in a very pragmatic way in a situation where a quick setup was desired, the minister said on Saturday in Pretoria during a visit to South Africa. The local authorities decided on test center operators such as doctors, pharmacists, the Red Cross or private providers. “Pragmatism is needed in this day and age. But if you take advantage of that, you can’t get away with it,” Spahn said on Twitter.
SPD criticizes Spahn
The SPD sees Spahn as responsible. The SPD faction’s first parliamentary chief executive, Carsten Schneider, told the dpa: “After the masks, now the rapid tests. The management failure at the Ministry of Health has reached unacceptable proportions.” Spahn ignored warnings and advice from MPs from the coalition factions about the testing conditions. “He is responsible for the responsible use of taxpayers’ money and must immediately stop self-service.”
Since early March, the federal government’s Corona Test Regulation has provided for civilian testing. The federal government bears the cost of at least one rapid test per citizen per week.
In April, the Association of Statutory Physicians (KV) settled the costs with the Federal Social Security Service for the first time. The test centers receive 18 euros per test. A total of 660 million euros was transferred in April and May.
After investigation by SZ, NDR and WDR, the system invites billing fraud because there is no control. Samples at a test site in Cologne showed that instead of 70 samples actually taken, nearly 1000 had been charged. Samples in Essen and Münster, among others, have revealed something similar. The report points to the lack of control on the part of the authorities.
Spahn said another check was already planned. “Sometimes things have to go fast in a pandemic.” However, providers should expect to see documents auditable by the end of 2024. In any case, the intention was to reduce the fee soon, given the increased supply on the market.
Trade union deputy Thorsten Frei said on Saturday: “It is a good signal that the Bochum Public Prosecutor’s Office has launched investigations into suspected fraud at Corona test sites. Because if such accounting fraud really existed, it would ultimately be the taxpayers who would be ripped off.”
A spokesperson for the Federal Justice Department said on request on Saturday: “Close audits of accounts by Corona testing centers should be made if there are indications of irregularities. Suspicions of fraud require consistent criminal investigations.” Commercial fraud is punishable by up to ten years in prison under the Penal Code.
The spokeswoman for the health policy of the CDU/CSU faction, Karin Maag, told the dpa: “There is nowhere to exclude criminal energy. However, I have not yet found reliable figures.”