Malta was one of the countries receiving “fake and faulty” Chinese COVID-19 masks, according to the findings of an investigation conducted throughout Europe by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP).
The investigation results published last month by the OCCRP and 16 European media partners found “scores” of cases in which personal protective equipment was sold throughout Europe using falsified documents, which claimed the face masks met EU safety rules, such as stamping with the standard ‘CE’ mark on products.
Looking at the fine print on the mark, however, showed the mark was “legally worthless”.
The Chinese company, Kangyuan Jiankang Technology, which provided the “unverified masks” to Lithuania’s prison hospital, hired a European company for certification. The masks were sold to Portugal, Malta and Estonia.
Yet, in Malta, they were rejected at the border by the retailer, according to the alert submitted by Malta to the European Commission Rapid Alert System.
It was the OCCRP reporters who informed the Head of the Lithuanian hospital about a Europe-wide alert on the falsified markings on the masks.
In most cases, the company entrusted with the European distribution of the face masks was Ente Certificazione Macchine (ECM), a long-operating company in the EU standards business, based in Bologna, Italy.
The company was officially sanctioned for misleading practices by Italy’s top accreditation body in early April, but OCCRP found evidence that the company has since continued to operate its business certifying personal protective equipment.
Investigations revealed that ECM and other companies issued misleading documentation while selling protective equipment to 19 countries. The equipment included respirator masks which failed safety tests by independent authorities.
The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), as well as national law enforcement agencies, are currently investigating the use of false and misleading certificates for protective equipment.
Ville Itälä, OLAF’s director general, said millions of articles of substandard protective gear have already been seized and the problem could affect all 27 EU Member States.
Malta, like other countries in Europe, received protective face masks from China. As the pandemic spread in March and April – a time when China was being blamed for not containing the virus at an early stage and under-reporting deaths caused by the virus, the country ‘donated’ protective equipment to European countries although it was criticised as being below standard.
China’s efforts were dubbed as “face mask diplomacy” as the country became home to some 80% of the world’s manufacturing supply of medical face masks. The company mentioned in the OCCRP report was not mentioned in exports to Malta in this period.
Under EU rules, respirator masks and other equipment that protects users from dangerous health risks must meet strict quality standards.
The European Commission oversees the evaluations of protective products distributed in the European Market by verified companies.
The European Safety Federation has published a list of companies believed to be issuing suspicious certificates. The Federation receives as many as 100 inquiries per day from across Europe.