A French businessman, wanted by Belgian justice on suspicion of fraud on a vast public contract for the purchase of protective masks against the coronavirus, was arrested and imprisoned this week in the South of France.
Laurent Héricord, managing director of the company Avrox, was arrested under a European arrest warrant issued in Belgium, said the Aix-en-Provence general prosecutor's office, confirming information from Nice-Matin.
He was presented to a judge who placed him in pre-trial detention with a view to his surrender to the Belgian authorities and a first hearing on the examination of the arrest warrant is scheduled for Wednesday in Aix-en-Provence, said the same. source.
A contract worth more than 30 million euros to deliver 15 million masks
According to the Brussels public prosecutor's office, three arrests in total took place in the same case: two in France and one in Luxembourg where the company Avrox is established.
No details were given on identities.
The arrests took place Tuesday at the end of a series of searches, in particular in Cannes (South of France) where Laurent Héricord is from, several Belgian media reported.
At the end of April 2020, in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, the Wilmès government had promised a fabric mask for every Belgian.
The Ministry of Defense then launched a public call for tenders and finally selected two companies: Avrox from Luxembourg and Tweed & Cotton from Ghent.
The first was to provide the largest delivery: 15 million masks.
Risk of inhalation of toxic substances, incorrect instructions ...
But several Belgian textile and fashion federations then pointed out the company's lack of experience in this sector. Things got worse in February, when the Belgian health authorities recommended that the population no longer use these washable masks (which were available free of charge in pharmacies), due to the risk of inhaling toxic substances. For its part, the Belgian justice has been investigating since June 2020 on suspicions of fraud.
According to the newspaper Le Soir, the investigations, led by a Brussels examining magistrate, target facts of "forgery and use of forgery, swindling, money laundering and hindering the freedom of auctions and tenders".
The masks were delivered with a notice with "many errors," said the newspaper.
In addition, an unsuccessful competitor during the call for tenders seized administrative justice.
The leaders of Avrox, including Mr. Héricord, have always strongly defended themselves from having committed any offense.
Faced with doubts about their presumed dangerousness, the firm affirmed that its masks "respect (have) scrupulously all national and European regulations".