“There are always crooks and people taking advantage of the system, which is why we tightened the controls. In the services of the Minister of Labor, Elisabeth Borne, the phenomenon is known as the white wolf. Each aid or new device attracts its share of dishonest, even crooks. Fraudsters who have sought to take advantage of the jackpot of 30 billion euros devoted to the partial unemployment system since the first confinement are obviously in the sights.
Hundreds of bloodhounds ordered by the services under the direction of work have been tracking them since the spring. Reinforcements of 250 agents (full-time equivalent) have also been recruited in recent months, specially dedicated to this real painstaking work. A number considered insufficient today by the unions, given the scale of the task.
Like any investigator, they methodically sift through a certain amount of data that comes back from employees and trade unionists, and suspicious clues spotted in requests for partial activity and after the start of the first aid payments. At the first level of investigation, it is a question of flushing out the phantom companies created opportunely, employees without pay slips, or recruited during the period of confinement. A sieving method targeted first of all at “risky” sectors, such as consulting, construction, wholesale trade in textiles for example.
400,000 “a priori” checks were carried out
Then, they apply a second type of targeting and cross the financial data files in particular, identify inconsistencies via the RIBs of employers. They also peel the reports which can put them on tracks on “questionable” files. They are also supported by labor inspectors who have wider powers and can visit companies as soon as there are serious suspicions. Their field of research: movements on the mailboxes of the employees concerned, or those of zealous leaders, professional telephones, but also badgers. A whole organization of surveillance and investigation carried out behind the scenes to make the small and big crooks fall into the cracks which already seems to be bearing fruit.
According to the latest figures that we have revealed, on November 2, 400,000 “a priori” checks were carried out when submitting requests for partial activity. Regarding these checks carried out upstream, between March and June the agents had only two days to carry them out, a very short deadline set by the executive to respond to the urgent need for the implementation of the system. “It was necessary to compensate the companies as quickly as possible”, reminds the Ministry of Labor. Since the end of June, these deadlines have been extended to 15 days to allow more upstream checks. “With a two-day delay, it was almost impossible for us to carry out the checks,” an agent told us.
Up to two years in prison and a fine of 30,000 euros
As for the so-called “a posteriori” controls (once the application file has been accepted), the 50,000 controls which had to be reached “before the end of the year” was crossed at the end of September. In total, out of 2000 cases on which there is a suspicion of fraud, 710 criminal proceedings were initiated and 26 administrative sanctions pronounced. According to the figures at the end of September (which must be updated), the amount of short-time work fraud represents a total of 225 million euros, more than half of which has been recovered. “The amount of fraud may seem important, but in view of the 30 billion mobilized, it is ultimately quite little, less than one percent of the total budget devoted to partial activity”, insists those around D ‘Elisabeth Borne.
And the crooks risk big. The penalties range up to two years’ imprisonment and a fine of 30,000 euros, not counting the administrative penalties which provide for the reimbursement of sums paid for partial unemployment and exclusion from benefiting from aid for up to five years.