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Austrian FFP2 mask producer probed for fraud

By AFP - Mar 03,2021 - Last updated at Mar 03,2021

VIENNA — An Austrian manufacturer that produced more than 12 million FFP2 masks a month is being investigated for repackaging Chinese masks and labelling them as made in Austria, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The company, Hygiene Austria, ramped up production to 350,000 medical grade masks per day when Chancellor Sebastian Kurz made FFP2 masks mandatory in public transport, schools and stores in January.

The anti-graft prosecutors' office raided two locations on Tuesday after an investigation into illegal hiring practices turned up evidence that "FFP2 masks produced abroad were repackaged at one of the company's locations in Austria and then sold at a higher price as masks produced in Austria”, a statement said. 

The general manager of Hygiene Austria, founded in April 2020, is the brother-in-law of Kurz's office manager.

The company has already delivered millions of masks to Austria's largest grocery store chains, an operation for which it said it hired 100 additional staff.

The anti-graft prosecutors suspect that many were never registered for social security, making the hires illegal. 

Hygiene Austria "strongly rejected" the accusations in a statement sent to Austrian media. 

During the production site's inauguration in April, Kurz thanked Hygiene Austria for its contribution to making the small nation of nine million people independent of foreign mask manufacturers.

On Wednesday, opposition lawmakers pressed for details about the procurement process, while supermarket chains said they were looking into whether any of the millions of masks they sold should be recalled, Austrian media reported. 

Kurz is already under pressure as an anti-graft investigation into allegedly illegal donations to his conservative party by gambling behemoth Novomatic resulted in a raid of his finance minister's home in February. 

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