German Health Minister Jens Spahn is coming under fire after prosecutors on Saturday confirmed they are investigating suspicious billing patterns at government-funded free coronavirus testing centers.
An investigation by broadcasters NDR/WDR and the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper reported that test centers had issued reimbursement claims for hundreds of tests that have not been carried out.
At one site in Cologne, almost a thousand tests were reported when only around 70 actually took place, the reports said.
Widespread free testing is an essential element of Germany’s plan for reopening. People who have not been vaccinated have to display proof of a negative test before entering restaurants, museums and other public spaces.
In April and May, the government paid out €660 million under the testing program, with centers receiving €18 per test, German media reported.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD) on Saturday said Spahn had ignored warnings of possible fraud.
“After the masks, now the tests. The failure of management by the Health Ministry has taken on unacceptable proportions,” said Carsten Schneider, a lawmaker from the SPD.
Spahn’s party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU), have been under fire this year because of scandals over lawmakers cashing in on the coronavirus by brokering face mask deals. The SPD is the junior partner in the coalition government led by the CDU.
Spahn replied to the criticism on Twitter, saying that “regardless of whether it’s with masks or tests, anyone who uses the pandemic to criminally enrich themselves, should be ashamed.” He also said that there will be more controls to prevent abuses.