Companies that imported face masks and other medical equipment at the start of the coronavirus pandemic exploited the urgency to ramp up profits, long-term care minister Conny Helder has said.
In a letter to parliament on Tuesday, Helder questioned whether PPE suppliers who secured “considerable margins” had used “ethically responsible” practices.
The minister even said the government was considering legal action against its own import channel, LCH, over the behaviour of an official who set up a private company to import equipment from Chinese-based supplier Zhonghong.
The official was also responsible for liaising with Zhongdong on behalf of the government to supply medical gloves.
Helder said several importers had behaved “in a way that I find inappropriate given the circumstances at that time” in the course of procuring €1.4 billion worth of protective equipment.
Helder’s letter accompanied the conclusions of a long-running inquiry into coronavirus equipment that began when entrepreneur Sywert van Lienden and two colleagues were found to have earned more than €20 million from importing face masks.
Van Lienden presented his initiative, Stichting Hulptroepen Alliantie (SHA), as a not-for-profit citizens’ movement.
But it later emerged that the bulk of the 40 million masks had been bought via a limited company, Relief Goods Alliance, in which Van Lienden and his associates, Bernd Damme and Camiel van Gestel were shareholders.
Van Lienden and Damme have been banned from serving on the board of non-profit ventures for five years and the new directors of SHA are suing the trio to reclaim the €21 million in profits, along with €350,000 in legal fees.
Charges of fraud against the trio have been dropped, but they remain under investigation for other potential offences including deception and money laundering.
The other main supplier of medical equipment in 2020, Lasaulec, earned even more from the government, the Volkskrant reported on Monday.
Lasaulec, owned by Ferrari dealer Frits Kooymans, is said to have profited from an “undesirably high margin” by not passing on bulk discounts when it invoiced the government.
Lausalec is estimated to have earned pre-tax profits of €36 million from the sale of €149 million worth of medical gowns.
The third major supplier, Majestic, a subdivision of the UK-listed wholesaler Bunzl, earned €23 million from the import of €130 million worth of masks and gloves.
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