German authorities are investigating allegations of fraud into the government's scheme to provide one free COVID-19 test a week to every citizen.
Germans have to present a negative test result in order to enter non-essential stores, visit restaurants or bars, or attend small-scale cultural events. To make it easier, the government pays for one free test per person a week.
Many cellphone stores, beauticians and art galleries have since converted to provide such a service with about 15,000 businesses country-wide offering antigen tests that provide results within 20 minutes.
Health Minister Jens Spahn said on Tuesday that "there is the suspicion, a very well-founded suspicion after everything I've seen, that there's also been fraud".
"There need to be criminal consequences,” he added, noting that prosecutors are investigating the allegations."
On Sunday he had tweeted that "anybody who uses the pandemic to enrich himself should be ashamed," also flagging that prosecutors in the western city of Bochum were investigating some suspected cases of fraud. He stressed however that most test providers were doing a professional job.
The issue has once again raised questions of who is accounting for the German government's spending splurge in response to the pandemic.
Last year, numerous applicants seeking government support for businesses affected by the lockdown were found to have made fraudulent claims, leading to a tightening of rules and severe delays in payments as further checks were conducted.
Spahn said the government had spent about €660 million to cover the costs of providing up to 45 million free tests in a month — more than any other country in Europe. His ministry was unable to say how many of those tests came back positive.