The second phase of the UK Covid-19 Inquiry is now underway and full disclosure of relevant documents will be a significant challenge and of substantial public interest.
Whilst the Inquiry modules taking place now focus evidence from public sector bodies, future modules will look at the role played by the private sector in dealing with Covid-19.
Public inquiries have the power to compel witnesses to testify and to gather evidence through various means, such as written submissions, oral testimony and documents. As the UK Covid-19 Inquiry is public and high profile, the proceedings and eventually the final report will be accessible by all. This environment creates a challenge for companies in meeting the rigour of full disclosure whilst protecting commercial interests.
The careful disclosure of relevant and appropriate evidence to the Inquiry will be a delicate process for every company involved. Companies will need to be able to demonstrate that they took proportionate steps to preserve and produce all documents relevant to their response to the pandemic.
The UK government has estimated that the total value of error and fraud across Covid-19 financial support schemes is around £4.5 billion.
Covid fraud refers to various types of fraudulent activities that took advantage of the pandemic. These included:
- Fraudulent government assistance claims: Some individuals or businesses may have fraudulently claimed government financial assistance meant to help those affected by the pandemic.
- Price gouging: Sellers may have inflated the prices of essential goods such as masks, hand sanitizers and medical supplies.
- Investment scams: Scammers may promote fraudulent investment opportunities related to Covid-19, promising high returns.
- Fake testing and treatment scams: Scammers may offer fake Covid-19 tests, treatments or cures and ask for payment or personal information.
- Phishing schemes: Criminals may send phishing emails or texts pretending to be from health organizations or government agencies to steal personal information.
To the extent that companies were involved with these schemes, Covid fraud is likely to become a focus as a result of the Inquiry and public interest in the topic.
It will be vital for Companies to have experienced experts support them navigate such high-stake matters and who understand the rigour of a government investigation. For nearly 25 years, our specialist teams of forensic accountants and data experts have helped companies successfully manage similar complex data requests.
Read more about our experience here.
FRA Partner Trevor Wiles