Friday 26 February 2021

Organised crime is infiltrating care sector, exploiting vulnerable clients

A potted cannabis seedling. Photo: Depositphotos.com

Several small care organisations in Twente forced their vulnerable clients – often troubled youngsters or people with psychological or addiction issues – to work on marijuana plantations and even trafficked them for sex, according to a new report published on behalf of the healthcare ministry.

The organisations, often one-person operated companies with a few clients, offered different types of care, including sheltered work programme for groups and individuals, and one offered sheltered housing. They were financed via local authorities and individual care budgets.

‘Many of the clients came from closed communities and often had an ethnic minority background,’ the report said. ‘Respondents stress that these people are more sensitive to false promises and manipulation.’

It is the first time that the link between fraudulent care organisations and crime in a specific area have been investigated and the results are worrying,’ healthcare fraud agency IKZ said. ‘We hope that more attention is focused on this problem.’

The investigation is based on 22 organisations identified earlier by the RIEC, a government agency which focuses on the way organised crime infiltrates society, and covers the period between 2017 and 2019.

Some people were put to work as drug runners, while others were made to trim marijuana plants as part of their occupational therapy. In one institution, there was also evidence that an 18-year-old woman with mental disabilities had been exploited sexually, the report said.

Care minister Tamara van Ark sent the report to parliament on Friday, as the coalition cabinet resigned over a scandal involving the tax office. She has not yet commented on the findings.

Unsafe

‘Not only did clients not receive the care they needed, but they were used for criminal activities,’ the report states. ‘They were threatened, blackmailed and found themselves in unsafe situations. The crime would appear to be organised, and no attention was paid to the welfare of these vulnerable people who needed extra protection.’

Ayfer Koç, who chairs the Enschede branch of the CDA, said the report showed that organised crime was deeply embedded in the care system. ‘This is undermining the rule of law, and is the tip of the iceberg,’ she said.

The report also highlights the lack of information about care firms operating with government money and calls for far better screening processes and controls.

Many of the companies are embedded into a wider criminal circuit involving property, the hospitality industry and transport sectors, the researchers said.

In most cases, the researchers were unable to find out any information about the income of the companies or about how many staff they employed, if any. However four had turnover of between €1m and €3m, the report said. Ten of the companies were BVs, or limited companies while six were single-person operations.

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