Loughborough husband and wife among three people arrested for multimillion-pound PPE fraud
A couple have been arrested as part of an international investigation into PPE fraud worth millions of pounds.
A man in his 50s, his wife and a 39-year-old man were arrested after searches of two properties in Loughborough, Leicestershire, and a third in Lytham St Annes, Lancashire, on Wednesday.
Together they are believed to have defrauded companies worldwide of £1.9 million, with a number of high-value items recovered in the property searches, including a car, jewellery, watches and appliances, as well as evidence of significant cash purchases.
The National Crime Agency (NCA) said the man in his 50s is believed to have set up a UK company solely to run a fraudulent scheme allowing him to profit from personal protective equipment shortages at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
His wife is believed to have helped launder the proceeds, while the third man is believed to have aided the scheme.
The three were arrested on suspicion of advance fee fraud, which sees victims make upfront payments for goods, services or financial gains that do not materialise.
Investigators claim the company, which has not been named, brokered sale agreements worth more than £28.9 million to provide nitrile gloves, used in many medical settings, to companies in the US and Germany.
The foreign companies apparently paid an upfront fee to the UK company to cover initial costs and secure contracts, but this was paid into a holding account run by a third party.
The holding account provided assurances that funds paid in would only be released upon contract conditions being met, but the NCA said on Wednesday that the couple are believed to have accessed and benefitted from the money without satisfying their contractual obligations.
Mick Pope, NCA branch commander, said: "During the pandemic, both individuals and businesses were impacted by criminal opportunists.“
"The NCA prioritised and tackled a range of serious organised crime threats, including fraud."
"False business agreements that turn out to be fraud damage the reputation of the UK and hurt our economy."
"We continue to treat this as a priority area and thank Leicestershire Police for their ongoing support."
"Work is under way with law enforcement partners in the US and Germany to further this investigation."
"The three suspects remain in custody and interviews are ongoing, the NCA added.
Leicestershire Police have been approached for comment.