Berlin State aid against the economic consequences of the corona crisis apparently also releases criminal energy: A 31-year-old entrepreneur was arrested on Thursday on suspicion of subsidy fraud. He faces up to five years in prison.
As Chief Prosecutor Thomas Fels, head of the department responsible for money laundering at the Berlin public prosecutor’s office, reported, the man applied for help from various cleaning companies totaling 80,000 euros. From this sum, he was paid 35,000 euros. It was only later that it emerged that some companies for which the aid was requested did not even exist.
Since the beginning of April, the Berlin public prosecutor has been investigating a total of 46 cases against 55 suspects for subsidy fraud. In addition, more than 100 cases are now pending at the Berlin State Criminal Police Office. A total loss of 700,000 euros is currently assumed. “We only see the tip of the iceberg here,” said the Berlin Chief Prosecutor Nina Thom, head of the Asset Recovery Department.
Not an isolated case
The deed of the 31-year-old is not an isolated case. In Berlin, fraudsters managed to get aid for companies that didn’t exist at all. This raises questions about security checks from the Investitionsbank Berlin, which pays the aid.
“Obviously, in some cases there was no plausibility check,” said the chief criminal director of the Berlin State Criminal Police Office, Jochen Sindberg. However, there was great political pressure to quickly help the self-employed and small businesses. In order to remain liquid, companies with up to five employees can receive € 9,000, companies with up to ten employees can receive € 15,000.
In some cases, the LKA received information from banks about strange account movements. In one case, an account was opened, the only purpose of which was obvious to book the Corona help. “We have made the Central Office for Financial Transaction Investigations (FIU) aware of these transactions,” said Sindberg. Banks would have to report suspicious account movements to the FIU.
Overall, the head of the Berlin Investment Bank considers the fraud rate to be marginal given the 200,000 applications. “The majority of companies are open and honest,” said Jürgen Allerkamp at his institute’s press conference for the financial statements.
Fraud cases also in other federal states
This also includes the 2500 companies that have paid back their aid. Obviously, they only realized afterwards that they were not part of the funding group. The repayments have so far amounted to more than 15 million euros.
The situation was different for a young lady who described herself as an Instagram influencer: she had no intention of repaying the help she received, although research by the police showed that she had a well-stocked account and had no liquidity concerns. The Berlin public prosecutor’s office consistently pursues cases of this kind. “We are vigorously after those who, in our eyes, behave in a socially harmful way,” said Sindberg
Not only the state of Berlin has to deal with fraudsters. First, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) reported attempts to defraud Corona help with fake websites. The fraudsters tried to lure applicants to their fake page in order to illegally tap public aid on their behalf – but with their own bank details. Aid payments had to be temporarily suspended. Other federal states also reported attempted fraud, but indicated higher security standards.