The Brussels public prosecutor’s office has suspected fraud, money laundering and fraud in the judicial investigation into the purchase of 15 million mouth masks from the Luxembourg Avrox. Yesterday it led to house searches in several European countries.
The action was channeled through the Eurojust European partnership. The investigators were particularly interested in Avrox’s Luxembourg headquarters. The public prosecutor’s office confirms to Belga news agency that the searches are part of an investigation into, among other things, forgery of documents, use of false documents, fraud and money laundering. It is being checked whether Avrox has followed the rules of the game in the public tender for the mouth masks. The Central Anti-Corruption Service (CDBC), a specialized service of the federal police, is involved in the investigation.
What is it about? At the start of the corona pandemic, in the spring of 2020, the previous government, with Sophie Wilmès (MR) as prime minister, ordered 15 million fabric face masks from the Luxembourg company Avrox. These constituted the vast majority of the mouth masks that the government wanted to distribute to the Belgian population for free. Defense, with Philippe Goffin as the then MR minister, was the organizer of the order. He recently defended Avrox’s deliveries.
The price tag? The 15 million Avrox masks cost the government 2.5 euros each, for a total of 37.5 million euros.
A controversial choice. The choice for the unknown Avrox was contested from the start, as the company was completely unknown in the ready-to-wear world. Investigations by N-VA MP Michael Freilich showed that the order led to a Luxembourg mailbox of a Jordanian millionaire. Deliveries in May and June of 2020 also faltered several times, sparking strong criticism for Avrox and the government. ‘I am pleased that there are concrete steps. This case stinks from all sides, ‘Freilich tweeted in response to the house searches.
Silver particles. Doubts quickly arose about the product itself last year. Three Belgian professional federations, including Creamoda, claimed that the millions of mouth masks were treated with an unnecessary and potentially harmful antibacterial technique based on silver ions. This allowed the users to inhale tiny silver particles, the analysis was. Avrox called the criticism slander at the time, but doubts arose again earlier this year. Minister of Health Frank Vandenbroucke (SP.A / Vooruit) advised citizens who have collected a free mouth mask from Avrox not to use it, pending further investigation.
Not popular. The approximately 4,800 pharmacists in our country were called in to distribute the mouth masks among the population. But the masks turned out to be anything but popular with the Belgian population. The pharmacists were left with boxes full of Avrox masks. Of the 15 million fabric mouth masks that the Ministry of Defense ordered last year, no fewer than 10 million would not have been distributed, news service Belga reported in February 2021.