Italian police fear black market sales of vaccines and scams

View of the Grand Canal on the day that Venice Carnival was due to begin, with the annual event cancelled due to COVID-19 precautions, in Venice, Italy, January 31, 2021.
View of the Grand Canal on the day that Venice Carnival was due to begin, with the annual event cancelled due to COVID-19 precautions, in Venice, Italy, January 31, 2021. REUTERS - MANUEL SILVESTRI

One year on from the confirmation of the first case of coronavirus in Italy, police are investigating Covid-19 vaccine procurement and fake drugs and vaccines to treat the virus


Fearful of the emergence of a black market of vaccines, the inquiry was launched after Luca Zaia, the governor of the Veneto region, said he had received offers by unnamed intermediaries to sell him vaccines – including the Pfizer-BioNtech, Russia’s Sputnik product and others.

Health care chief questioned

After Zaia specified on Italian television that he had received two separate contractual offers to buy 27 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine at market prices, Italian police questioned his health care chief Dr Luciano Flor and searched the Veneto regional government offices.

Zaia had recently publicly voiced his frustration over delayed deliveries of the Covid-19 vaccines in Italy and said that it was his job to obtain vaccines for the people living in the Veneto region. He added that it was up to Italy’s pharmaceutical agency and Covid-19 commissioner to verify whether the offers of the vaccines were legitimate.

He said clarity was needed to ensure that frauds are avoided. Last June Zaia had already suggested he would take matters into his own hands, but he has made clear that he would not close any negotiations unless he was given the go ahead.

Not only the Veneto administration but some of the other wealthy Italian northern regions, including Piedmont, Lombardy, Friuli Venezia Giulia and Emilia Romagna, complained about the slow roll out of the vaccine which is based on a national plan that envisages that vaccines are delivered following an EU procurement scheme.

The northern regions also said they would break from the EU strategy and contracts and announced they also planned to buy more doses of vaccines for their populations.

Black market vaccines

The head of the European Commission, Ursula van der Layen, has warned against purchases on the black market saying these are risky as there are fears of fraud attempts with respect to sales of coronavirus vaccines.

The governors of Italy’s northern regions want their populations vaccinated as soon as possible so that the economies that have been struggling due to the constant closures, may be able to restart and go back to operating as they did pre-pandemic.

Italy’s free Covid-19 vaccinations were launched on December 27 and so far, less than 3.5 million people have been inoculated.

In a separate investigation, Italian police are also investigating a Sicilian man who claimed to be a representative of the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and had offered to sell vaccines to Umbrian authorities.

Another inquiry is underway in Italy into a €1.25bn government purchase of PPE from China involving four Italian companies that acted as intermediaries and were paid tens of millions of euros in illegal commissions to secure the contracts.


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