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Berlin police cracks down on house care scam

Darko Janjevic (with dpa, epd, AFP)April 21, 2016

German authorities have conducted a series of raids in and around Berlin, targeting patients and nurses suspected of systemic fraud. Dozens were arrested, most of them Russian citizens or ethnic Russians.

Pflegefirma in Berlin Polizei Razzia Pflegebetrug
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/P.Zinken

Over 100 police officers raided 30 locations in Berlin and nearby Brandenburg on Thursday, including a company employing private nursing staff, officials said.

The police arrested the company's manager on suspicion of embezzling around 1 million euros ($1.1 million). Another seven employees, including her mother and sister, and 31 patients are also under suspicion regarding an organized healthcare billing scam.

"The house care company and the patients have cooperated extensively," police spokesman Thomas Neuendorf said.

According to the police, the fraud involved healthy people faking medical symptoms and requesting medical care at their homes. After the requests were approved, the nursing company would bill their health insurance provider for healthcare services that were never provided. The nurses and the patients would then share the monthly insurance payment.

For example, one of the patients was seen riding a bicycle even though he was supposedly paralyzed, and an allegedly bed-ridden woman would regularly take out the garbage herself, authorities say.

The company could charge up to 2,000 euros each month by faking the work logs, officials claim.

Traces of Russian mafia

Thursday's raids followed media reports claiming that similar scams were operating nationwide, costing Germany's healthcare system at least 1 billion euros per year. Some of the suspects are thought to be linked with Russian mafia.

Germany employs a large number of nursing staff from the former Soviet bloc, faced with a rapidly-aging population and lack of domestic healthcare workers.

Shortage of workers in German nursing homes

Nearly all of the suspects detained in Thursday's crackdown are Russian nationals or ethnic Russians living in Germany.

Berlin Interior Minister Frank Henkel described the raids as a "powerful blow against organized nursing fraud."

The officials would now investigate the possibility of tougher controls, including spot checks, to push against such schemes, he told the Germany's "die Welt" daily newspaper.

Under the current system, health care companies usually conduct scheduled visits once every six months.