Law enforcement authorities in various parts of the country are currently investigating fraud relating to businesses claiming support from the government for the effects of coronavirus measures.
Since the arrival of the pandemic in February-March last year, the government has handed out millions of euros in support to businesses forced to close by measures introduced to stop the spread of the disease.
Now, however, there are investigations going on in different parts of the country into financial support that was claimed fraudulently, De Tijd reports.
According to Danny Meirsschaut, a labour auditor in East and West Flanders and president of the national board of labour auditors, the problem lies in the lack of preparation for a system involving millions in payouts.
“When you give out money on such a scale, you first have to set up a system of supervision. That did not happen at the beginning of the corona crisis,” he told the paper.
“They were clearly not ready to control such a large flow of subsidies. The checks were only carried out afterwards. I think a serious mountain of cash has been wrongly awarded in corona support.”
To give one flagrant example, the owner of a bar where prostitutes would pick up clients listed the women as bar staff in order to claim technical unemployment benefit. In each case, however, he had the benefit paid into his own bank account.
Suspected fraud has also been detected in the system that allows businesses to claim compensation for closure or loss of income – for example when a restaurant supplier, though not themselves forced to close, suffers by the enforced closure of their customers.
Another phenomenon is the sudden awakening of dormant companies.
Companies that were created to provide no more than a name and a post box address suddenly came to life and started claiming support for loss of earnings, according to Filiep De Ketelaere, another labour auditor.
“Also, people who work from home have been reported as temporarily unemployed without their consent and without their knowledge. It was only after they got their pay slips that they noticed that they were not receiving any pay that month but unemployment support,” he explained.
“There were also self-employed people who claimed that their business was closed, continued to work behind the scenes and had applied for compensation.”
The Brussels Times