Laurent Hericord, managing director of Avrox, the company that won a contract last year to provide 15 million face masks for the Belgian population, has been arrested in Nice, according to Nice Matin.
The arrest comes after search warrants were executed earlier this week in various locations in Europe. The Belgian authorities are thought to have issued a European Arrest Warrant, leading to Hericord being picked up and detained to be brought before a magistrate.
The controversy surrounding the Avrox contract has been simmering for over a year, ever since it was announced the company had won the government contract to supply the masks.
Avrox is a three-man company whose office in Luxembourg is shared with hundreds of other companies who exist only as mailboxes. It has no experience in fulfilling government contracts, and even less experience in fulfilling large textile orders.
Genuine textiles companies, of which Belgium has plenty, raised the alarm when their bids were refused in favour of an unknown.
According to Philippe De Backer (Open VLD) who at the time was charged with government procurement of protective equipment at the outset of the coronavirus crisis, the contract was awarded in line with the rules, and Avrox had given the necessary assurances it would fulfil.
Those turned out to be empty promises, however. First, the masks arrived late, long after the population had been forced to equip itself. Then they failed to meet the standards required in the tender documents.
The late arrival meant the masks lingered in their millions in the pharmacies which were charged with distributing them, as they were now surplus to requirements. To make matters worse still, they were found to contain dangerous particles and to fall apart when washed at the recommended hygienic temperature.
Hericord is now detained in Nice awaiting the formalities that will allow his extradition to Belgium, according to a spokesperson for the appeal court of Aix-en-Provence. The arrest warrant will be examined on 12 May, when a decision on extradition will be made. In the meantime, he will remain in detention.
Meanwhile, the prosecutor’s office in Brussels declined to comment on the matter, including whether other persons were targetted by a similar warrant. Provisionally, the ongoing investigation concerns charges of forgery, fraud, money laundering and interfering with the process of official tenders.