Saturday

20th Aug 2022

EU fraud agency warns governments on vaccine scams

  • Vaccine deliveries to Bulgria. Europol warned in December that criminals might target such vaccine transports (Photo: European Commission)

The EU's anti-fraud agency warned the bloc's governments on Monday (15 February) for vigilance on offers that promise to provide them with Covid-19 vaccines, as the 27 countries seek a faster vaccine roll-out.

These offers are often false, the EU's anti-fraud agency OLAF warned, and should be reported.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

The agency also said it will step up efforts to share such information among the member states.

"We are hearing reports of fraudsters offering to sell vaccines to governments across the EU," Ville Itälä, director-general of OLAF said in a statement.

Itälä said the offers come in many forms, for instance, criminals may offer to sell large quantities of vaccines, deliver a sample in order to pocket the first advance payment and then vanish with the money.

Fraudsters might also deliver batches of fake vaccines, or they may falsely pretend to represent legitimate business and claim to be in the possession of, or have access to, vaccines.

"They are hoaxes organised to defraud national authorities looking to step up the pace of vaccination to keep their citizens safe. They must be stopped as quickly as possible," Itälä added.

The EU has been criticised for what some governments see as a sluggish roll-out of Covid-19 vaccines, in comparison with other parts of the world.

The EU commission has signed contracts with different pharmaceutical giants for more than 2 billion doses of various coronavirus vaccines.

Three of them have been approved for use but delivery of some consignments has been disturbed by production delays.

So far, only Hungary has sought to purchase vaccines - from Russia and China - outside of the EU contracts.

OLAF said it expanded its operations to look into illicit trade of Covid-19 vaccines - possibly carried out by illegally importing them into the EU territory or through the marketing of counterfeit medicines.

Last week, Czech prime minister Andrej Babiš said four EU governments were offered speedier access to AstraZeneca vaccines through an intermediary from Dubai with a 50-percent prepayment.

The company denied it had made such offer, saying it was a scam.

When asked by EUobserver about the case mentioned by the Czech prime minister, OLAF press office said in an email that the agency had received information from several EU member states about offers of Covid-19 vaccines.

"Most of these offers are assessed as suspicious after analysis of the parties involved. To date, all these different offers together already represent over 250 million vaccines for a total asking price of more than €2 billion," OLAF press office said.

"After analysis of the parties involved, most offers have been flagged as fake. A small proportion of the offers could not yet be defined as fake or real. OLAF's enquiries into these are ongoing," the agency's press office added.

OLAF is in contact with the Member States that received those offers and is supporting them in analysing the available data.

The EU's police agency Europol warned in December about the risk of organised crime scams linked to Covid-19 vaccines.

Catherine De Bolle, Europol chief and former federal police chief in Belgium, said in an interview that Europol has already warned EU countries to be very vigilant.

"There is a real risk that criminal groups are trying to exploit the need for vaccine for their crimes," she said, adding that fraudsters might never deliver promised vaccines after the payment, or the vaccines on offer are fake. Criminals might also try to hijack shipments of vaccines, she warned.

Since opening the investigation last March into Covid-related products, OLAF said that it had helped identify over 1,000 suspicious operations and seize over 14 million items, including faulty face masks and fake test kits.

The EU aims to vaccinate 70 percent of its adult population by September, as governments are under pressure to open up their damaged economies once inoculations reach a sufficient level.

Von der Leyen concedes mistakes in vaccine rollout

The European Commission admitted mistakes were made during the bloc's approval and rollout of vaccines - triggering criticism from MEPs who demanded more transparency and accountability, plus solidarity with low and medium-income countries.

Hungary drops sharply in global anti-corruption index

"Covid-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage," Delia Ferreira Rubio, Transparency International's chair said.

EU Commission casts doubt on Russian Sputnik vaccine

Hungary is buying up vaccines from Russia and China. But tricky regulatory oversight questions remain as the European Commission sheds doubt on the quality and safety of Sputnik production.

Worries on Europe's infection surge, after six-week drop

The World Health Organization warned of a surge in new coronavirus infections across Europe, pointing out healthcare systems should not be under pressure in some countries. Meanwhile, the European Medical Agency is reviewing Russia's Sputnik vaccine.

Podcast

Bianca's story revisited

Europeans howl in outrage about US backsliding on abortion rights — but they don't exactly have their own house in order. Take the case of Bianca. She's a Romanian.

Opinion

Are there dangerous chemicals in disposable nappies in EU?

One of the first opportunities for the EU Commission to 'walk its talk' is to support the proposal for a broad restriction of harmful chemicals in single-use diapers that millions of children wear everyday across the continent.

News in Brief

  1. China joins Russian military exercises in Vostok
  2. Ukraine nuclear plant damage would be 'suicide', says UN chief
  3. Denmark to invest €5.5bn in new warships
  4. German economy stagnates, finance ministry says
  5. Syria received stolen grain, says Ukraine envoy
  6. Truss still leads in next UK PM polling
  7. UN chief meets Zelensky and Erdogan over grain exports
  8. Fighting stalls ahead of UN visit, Ukraine says

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”
  2. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  4. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis

Latest News

  1. European inflation hits 25-year high, driven by energy spike
  2. No breakthrough in EU-hosted Kosovo/Serbia talks
  3. Letter to the Editor: Rosatom responds on Zaporizhzhia
  4. Could the central Asian 'stan' states turn away from Moscow?
  5. Serbia expects difficult talks with Kosovo at EU meeting
  6. How scary is threat to Ukraine's Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant?
  7. Slovakia's government stares into the abyss
  8. Finland restricts Russian tourist visas

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us