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Healthcare workers in Italy put at risk due to aggravated fraud relating to protective face masks and suits: more than €1.1 million seized

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More than €1.1 million was preventively seized last Friday from two Italian companies operating in the medical supplies sector, at the request of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office (EPPO). The two companies and their director are suspected of aggravated fraud against various healthcare facilities and hospitals in the regions of Piedmont, Valle d’Aosta and Sicily, by providing them with more than 100 000 FFP2 and FFP3 face masks and protective suits without suitable certification.

In November 2020, the investigators in Ravenna (Guardia di Finanza – Nucleo di Polizia Economico Finanziaria) started looking into possible fraud relating to the importation of protective material from China to the Emilia-Romagna region, by companies that sold 1.4 million FFP2 face masks without suitable certification to Parma University Hospital. That hospital, at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, played the role of purchasing centre for the entire healthcare sector of Emilia-Romagna. You can read more about this in our press release from September 2021.

Based on the results of these initial findings, the investigations moved on to all the other healthcare facilities that were customers of the same two companies. The companies in this investigation had provided, between April and November 2020, 24 500 FFP2 and 13 980 FFP3 face masks, and 70 260 protective suits to local healthcare companies and hospitals in the provinces of Caltanissetta, Catania, Trapani, Aosta and Turin.

According to the provisional charges, similar fraudulent activities were quickly discovered: in some cases the products had false and/or unsuitable certifications. In other cases, the healthcare professionals who were using the protective equipment complained about the insufficient quality of the products, and asked for the supply to be withdrawn.

The investigative claim is that the director of the supplying companies refrained from reporting possible critical issues to the other health authorities who were using similar products. Both companies are therefore held administratively responsible for the crimes attributed to their director, as they did not have any suitable organisational model for preventing the unlawful conduct.

The preventive seizure order was issued by the preliminary investigative judge upon the EPPO’s request and executed on Friday, 5 August 2022 for a total value of €1 144 175. This allows compensation for the illicit profit achieved due to the alleged fraud. Liquid assets from the main suspect and the two companies worth €640 000 were seized, as was a commercial property and an apartment, equivalent to €504 976.