Audit office denies ‘mass phenomenon’ of Covid-19 credit abuse

The hospitality sector including restaurants were one of the biggest recipients of financial support during the crisis. Keystone / Pablo Gianinazzi

An interim report on government pay-outs to businesses during the Covid-19 crisis has revealed that there is suspected abuse in less than 1% of cases.

SRF/jdp

The Federal Audit Office investigated some 94,000 coronavirus loans amounting to CHF11.4 billion ($12 billion). It found indications of abuse in about 400 cases, which amounts to about CHF88 million in guarantees.

This doesn’t represent a “mass phenomenon”, according to the report released this week.

As of May 20, the government had committed CHF72 billion to help cushion the blow of the coronavirus pandemic. The audit office report analysed the dual goals of speed and limiting abuse in the distribution of government relief package.

There had been media reports of suspected Covid-19 credit abuse, but this is the first representative analysis of the situation. In late May, the Office of the Attorney General of canton Vaud opened an investigation into suspected fraud and money laundering linked to financial aid given to several Swiss firms hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Most of the abuse concerns dividends that have been paid despite a ban, double payments or incorrect information on revenue. In one in ten applications the declared turnover deviates by more than 25% from the amount that was specified for the calculation of value added tax. 

Unemployment benefits

The report also looked at partial unemployment pay-outs, which as of May 6 amounted to CHF1 billion. More than 700,000 employees, or every seventh person in the workforce in Switzerland, were affected by some unemployment during the crisis. The average amount paid to businesses was CHF122,000.

About 43 reports of alleged abuse in partial unemployment benefits were forwarded to the Federal Audit Office by the end of May.

Brigitte Christ, deputy head of the Swiss Federal Audit Office, told Swiss public television, SRF, that in order to get the money to people as quickly as possible, some checks were reduced or not done at all. However, she cautioned that these cases still need to be fully investigated.

“It will only be possible over time to determine how many abuses are hidden behind the funds allocated,” she said.

The audit office has now sent its report to the Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO).

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