Detectives launched an operation to chase down “unforgiveable” fraudsters who fraudulently claimed money through Covid financial schemes but so far just £5million has been recovered
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An operation to claw back fraudulent Covid loans has recovered just 0.1% of the £5billion plundered.
Detectives from the National Investigation Service have so far recovered less than £5million of the stolen loot from the Bounce Back Loan Scheme handouts.
The team, which tackles organised crime, have also arrested several people – including a man and woman at Heathrow, who pilfered £670,000 in public funds.
Last night, campaigners and Labour called on the Government to do more to nail the fraudsters.
John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “The scale of the abuse will shock those who played by the rules while worrying about their jobs and families.”
Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves said: “The Government must let the National Crime Agency investigate Covid fraud from top to bottom.
“It is unforgivable that billions of pounds of taxpayer money has been handed to criminals.”
The Bounce Back Loan Scheme allowed small and medium-sized firms to borrow up to £50,000.
The loan, which was interest-free for the first 12 months, was meant to help businesses survive the pandemic – but crooks soon realised it could be abused.
In January, Anti-Fraud Minister Lord Agnew resigned over the shambles, branding Government attempts to tackle the swindlers “a Dad’s Army operation”.
In a shock address to the House of Lords, he accused ministers of “arrogance, indolence and ignorance” after it emerged 1,000 companies that received money as part of the Bounce Back Loan Scheme did not even exist before March 2020.
Around £48billion was borrowed under the scheme.
The National Audit Office has warned up to 60% may never be repaid.
A Government spokesman said the claim that less than £5million of loan money had been clawed back was “incorrect and misleading because funds recovered by the National Investigation Service make up only a proportion of total recovery – and the Bounce Back Loan Scheme fraud figure given is an estimate which does not represent actual losses”.
He added: “We will not tolerate those who seek to defraud consumers and taxpayers and continue to crack down on Covid fraud with a 1,200-strong Taxpayer Protection Taskforce and new Counter Fraud Function.”