At least 30 house searches took place and 25 suspects were detained for questioning in a mass operation related to fraud involving Covid-19 aid.
At the outset of the coronavirus crisis in March, many people were made temporarily unemployed tanks to measures introduced to stem the growth of the epidemic in Belgium. The government introduced a benefit equivalent to 70% of normal income so that people could stay home whose jobs made it impossible to telework.
According to estimates, some 900,000 people were able to take advantage of the opportunity.
However it later emerged that many applications for aid were made fraudulently, often using identity theft. In other cases, aid was granted to people who had no right to it.
The emergency situation at the time meant that applications were generally granted immediately, while the actual situation of the applicant was only verified retroactively.
Investigation since then has revealed cases of identity theft, as well as details of employers who turn out to be shell companies with no real economic activity. According to the federal prosecutor’s office, the illegal aid could amount to €2 million.
“However, the services of the social security authority and the national employment office have determined that retroactive checks were carried out at certain companies for various persons whose identities appear to have been misused,” said Eric Van der Sypt, spokesperson for the federal prosecutor’s office.
During the searches that took place mainly in Brussels and in Hainaut province, three firearms were also seized. During one search, a civilian was accidentally injured when a police firearm was discharged.