LAGOS, Nigeria – Authorities in Nigeria have arrested two suspects who are believed to be behind a huge fraud scheme which nearly saw German health authorities pay EUR 2.4 million for masks they never received.
In March 2020, as a number of countries were going into lockdown due to COVID-19, health authorities were desperate to purchase protective equipment for medical staff. They contracted a procurement company to find EUR 15 million worth of face masks.
Despite being experienced buyers, company representatives were hooked by fraudsters and led down a path of referrals, fake emails and websites, extra fees and ultimately, no masks.
Full story: Unmasked: International COVID-19 fraud exposed
In a case coordinated by INTERPOL, financial crime and intelligence units and banks across Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and the United Kingdom raced against the clock to intercept a number of wire transfers and recover the down payments made to guarantee an initial shipment of masks.
Once the funds were secured, investigators continued working their way up the fraud scheme to dismantle the criminal group behind it.
Following arrests in the Netherlands, investigators identified a Nigerian contact who had planned to send EUR 500,000 from the UK to Nigeria. Evidence showed the man was in fact the mastermind behind the money laundering element of the scheme.
INTERPOL helped facilitate contact between INTERPOL National Central Bureaus and criminal investigation departments, and ultimately, a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) was sent to Nigeria from Germany prosecutors.
Nigerian authorities responded quickly, leading to the location and arrest of the mastermind and identifying his accomplice, believed to have opened a corporate account in Lagos to receive criminal proceeds from the scheme.
As investigations continue, INTERPOL encourages members of the public to be vigilant when dealing with new business contacts, particularly for the purchase of equipment, services or medicines linked to COVID-19.