Pledge to crack down on Covid loan fraud as 'suitcases of cash' stopped at border

27 April 2022, 16:31 | Updated: 27 April 2022, 18:11

Suitcases stuffed with taxpayers' cash were reportedly seized at the border
Suitcases stuffed with taxpayers' cash were reportedly seized at the border. Picture: Alamy

By Patrick Grafton-Green

The Government has pledged to crack down on £4.9bn worth of Covid loan fraud after an investigation found 'suitcases stuffed with taxpayers' cash' were seized at the UK's borders.

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Border Force officials stopped people at airports as they tried to smuggle the suitcases out of the country, an investigation by The Times found.

They were "carrying large amounts of money" believed to be from coronavirus bounce-back loans for businesses, a Home Office source told the newspaper, and the money was confiscated under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

Others who received financial support during the pandemic were found to have spent the money on gambling sprees, home improvements, cars and watches.

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Company directors often transferred money from their loans into personal bank accounts despite the fact, under the rules, they could only be used to support businesses.

£17 billion of £47 billion spent by the Government on the loans is never expected to be paid back, with £4.9 billion suspected to have been lost to fraud.

David Clarke, former head of fraud for City of London police and former chairman of the Fraud Advisory Panel, told The Times the revelations were "startling" and "proved there were in effect no protections on the money being sent out".

A Treasury spokesman said: "Our Covid support schemes were implemented at unprecedented speed and successfully protected millions of jobs and businesses at the height of the pandemic.

"Last year we stopped nearly £2.2 billion in potential fraud from the bounce-back loan scheme, and £743 million of over claimed furlough grants.

"Our new Taxpayer Protection Taskforce, made up of nearly 1,300 staff, is expected to recover an additional £1 billion of taxpayers' money."

It comes as Chancellor Rishi Sunak today launched a 'fraud squad' to tackle criminal gangs who rip off the taxpayer.

The new Public Sector Fraud Authority will recruit "leading data analytics experts and economic crime investigators".

It aims to "recover money stolen from Covid support schemes and spot suspicious companies and people seeking Government contracts", and is expected to begin work in July.

Mr Sunak said: "This elite fraud squad, backed by £25 million, will ensure the latest counter fraud techniques are being used to track down these criminals.

"People are rightly furious that fraudsters took advantage of our vital Covid support schemes, and we are acting to make sure they pay the price."

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