After recently in the course of the affair surrounding the procurement of faulty FFP2 masks in 2020, house searches were carried out by the economic and corruption prosecutor’s office (WKStA) in Austria at the request of the Bolzano public prosecutor’s office, “Der Standard” writes in its Wednesday edition of Intercepted phone calls. These were explained by Italian investigators and conducted by the suspects with top local officials, among others.
In spring 2020, corona protective masks were in short supply in Europe. The South Tyrolean company Oberalp imported protective masks from China in tranches through the mediation of the Red Cross, which had been commissioned by the government to procure them. Most of these, of course, did not meet the required and several agreed quality standards.
According to “Standard”, the Republic should have paid a total of 41.5 million euros to the Oberalp. The Finanzprokuratur reported the cause to the WKStA. 11.7 million defective masks were received and Oberalp was not willing to pay back the purchase price. There are also suspicions that Austria has been deceived. Those involved deny the allegations. Oberalp states that it only “arranged and pre-financed” the acquisition.
Masks were unsuitable
Checks revealed defects after the first delivery in March. According to the Dekra certification body and the Austrian Office for Armament and Defense Technology (ARWT), the masks ordered were not suitable for the desired purpose, namely use in the medical field. The delivery agreement between the Red Cross and Oberalp was nevertheless concluded. According to documents inspected by “Der Standard”, the Italian judiciary attributes this to the “very close relationships” between the Oberalp boss and Red Cross executives. She would have “disclosed confidential details” with which one tried to solve the problem. The arguments for this come from emails and apparently from phone taps.
On March 29, the Oberalp boss reassured his employees by e-mail: he had phoned the officials in the Ministry of Defense and the test report was kept “under lock and key”. Shortly thereafter, a contract for 20 million respirators was signed with Oberalp. Purchase price: 26.6 million euros. At the end of May, a Red Cross employee and the Oberalp boss then discussed the recycling of the defective masks and another feared contract exit from the Ministry of Economic Affairs, according to “Standard”, the carabinieri listened. For example, a purchase of the masks by the Chamber of Commerce or the police and a threat of legal action against the Republic were put forward should the Ministry of Economics withdraw from the contract. This should increase the pressure, because both assumed that politicians did not want any negative headlines.
What did the Red Cross get out of accommodating Oberalp? According to Italian investigators, the commission was two million euros, which the federal government had promised for various pre-financing and as a participation contribution. “It is correct that the Red Cross charged 1.5 percent for its workload, which is far below the usual market prices. There is no final account yet. The authority is still checking,” the Red Cross was quoted as saying.
According to the report, the ministry wanted to withdraw from the contract in the summer after further defective masks had been delivered in the meantime. However, in a meeting on June 2, 2020, representatives of the Republic, Oberalp and the Red Cross negotiated a compromise: The Red Cross asserted that Oberalp Austria GmbH was a reliable partner, masks were of particularly high quality and suitable for use in emergency areas . As a result, the contract was amended and another ten million masks were ordered, which arrived in two tranches in the same month and were distributed to the federal states. In autumn it turned out that these had serious defects and were withdrawn from circulation. (pa)