Italian police bust $430 mln COVID support fraud

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Italian police said Wednesday they have busted a major operation to defraud a government scheme to help businesses during the coronavirus pandemic, recovering more than 400 million euros ($430 million).

Twelve people were arrested as part of the sting against a criminal network based in Rimini, northern Italy, which defrauded the Italian state of a total of 440 million euros, the financial crimes police said.

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Some 97 percent of this has been recovered, police said, from property to vehicles and cryptocurrencies – as well as gold, platinum and luxury watches held in a safe deposit box in Austria, which cooperated with the operation.

“The organized crime group used Italian companies to sell false tax credits, to simulate business leases in order to obtain COVID-19-related compensation, and to simulate tax credits for false works to improve the safety and energy consumption of the companies,” explained EU agency Eurojust, which helped with cross-border issues.

European Union countries including Italy spent billions of euros helping businesses when the arrival of coronavirus in early 2020 triggered widespread shutdowns across the economy.

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