At the request of the EPPO, the Guardia di Finanza of Ravenna (Italy) have seized more than €11 million from the director of two Italian companies for smuggling personal protective equipment and against the latter and an accomplice for committing aggravated fraud against healthcare facilities in the region of Emilia-Romagna, putting hospital staff at risk during the pandemic.
The seizure of over €11 million (consisting of €4.2 million in profits from the evasion of customs duties and VAT, and about €7 million in proceeds from fraud) concerns the cash in the current accounts of the two suspects and the beneficiary companies, as well as, if the money is insufficient, the substantial real estate assets of the same individuals and companies – estimated at 23 buildings, 3 pieces of land, company shares and cars. Moreover, the financial police found and seized more than one million FFP2 medical masks that were the subject of the alleged fraud against the health authorities and over 2.5 million masks that were smuggled.
Taking advantage of the pandemic
Between April and August 2020, during the first phase of the Covid-19 pandemic, a company based in Faenza and operating in the trade of paramedical products, imported personal protective equipment (surgical masks, FFP2 masks, protective suits and goggles, face shields and footwear) for tens of millions of euro from China through the special procedure of 'direct release'. This procedure qualifies for the exemption of import duties and VAT on personal protective equipment if they are delivered directly, and without any commercial mark-up, to public health facilities engaged in the fight against the pandemic.
However, instead of directly delivering the personal protective equipment to the public authorities, the company systematically marketed the goods to another private company – which turned out to be the parent company of the former, and traceable to the same directors – at higher prices. In order to continue to benefit from the tax exemption of the direct release procedure, the company attached false documents to the customs declaration.
Putting hospital staff at risk
In addition, technical expertise revealed that the FFP2 medical masks sold to the hospital in Emilia-Romagna were neither certified nor complied with the penetration parameters of the filtering material, and put the hospital staff at risk. After complaints about the quality of the masks from the hospital authority, the masks were replaced with equally unsuitable ones. Consequently, the same hospital authority officially requested in August 2020 the immediate withdrawal of all the masks the health authorities of Emilia-Romagna had in stock.
Full details can be read in the Guardia di Finanza press release, available here.