Pandemic fraud: police raid call centre suspected of defrauding Flemish government
Police have conducted a search at a call centre suspected of defrauding the government of Flanders during the Covid-19 crisis. The firm allegedly sent the Belgian regional government invoices for contact tracers who were actually making calls for other customers. The fraud allegedly involved more than 1 million euros, Het Laatste Nieuws reports. On Wednesday, the East Flanders public prosecutor's office only confirmed that a search took place "in the context of a judicial investigation into fraud relating to contact tracing".
Investigators raided the Belgian headquarters of Mifratel in Ghent on Tuesday. Mifratel is a subsidiary of the Dutch firm Yource, one of the call centres called in by then Flemish Minister of Welfare Wouter Beke (CD&V, Flemish Christian-democrats) to organise contact tracing.
In November of last year, Het Laatste Nieuws reported that Yource had allegedly assigned several contact tracers to other jobs while their hours were charged to the Flemish government. While they were actually supposed to call Covid-19 patients and their contacts, they were allegedly making calls for other clients.
Back in March, the government of Flanders ordered an audit of the invoices and performance of the call centres participating in contact tracing. During that audit, the auditors discovered a combined €25 million worth of "anomalous" invoices. An explanation with supporting documents could be provided for 10 million euros, but no proof of performance was provided for the remaining 15 million euros. Because of the ongoing legal investigation, Yource's management was not questioned at the time.
The Dutch parent company's response was minimal. "We confirm that a search took place at our Belgian subsidiary Mifratel in the context of alleged irregularities in contact tracing. We have provided our full cooperation."
Call centre employees making Covid-19 contact tracing calls during for the government of Flanders in May 2020 © BELGA PHOTO THIERRY ROGE