Coronavirus: Chinese man jailed over face masks scam

South China Morning Post

Posted at Jan 04 2021 09:51 AM | Updated as of Jan 04 2021 09:52 AM

A Chinese man has been jailed for more than six years over a medical equipment scam in the early days of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The man from Jingzhou in Hubei province - just 200km (124 miles) from Wuhan, the initial epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak - had taken orders for thousands of masks worth 400,000 yuan (US$61,000) in one week but only delivered a fraction of the total.

Chutian Metropolis Daily reported on Sunday that a county court found he had taken the orders from six people via social media in early February, a time when the disease had started to spread across the country, but had spent the money on online gambling.

The man, surnamed Yang, was sentenced to six and a half years in jail, fined 30,000 yuan (around US$4,600), and ordered to compensate the buyers for the full sum of their orders.

The newspaper also reported on another recent case in another court in the city, where two men were jailed and fined for faking documentation to import medical equipment.

One man, surnamed Liu, ran a coronavirus patient isolation centre in Jingzhou and colluded with another man, surnamed Hong, to fabricate documents allowing them to import equipment, including a pass for Hong to transport the equipment to the isolation centre.

Hong was stopped by traffic police, who discovered the faulty documents, and the two were later charged with forgery.

Hong and Liu were both fined 5,000 yuan each and Hong was handed an eight-month jail sentence, while Liu got seven months.

Fraudulent sales of medical equipment have hurt consumer confidence at home and tarnished China's reputation abroad as demand for masks and other personal protective equipment soared.

In January last year, online Chinese retailers shut down dozens of shops on its platform that sold fake medical masks as fraudsters tried to profit from the public panic.

Later in the year complaints about faulty exports from China caused diplomatic ructions around the world.

The Dutch health authorities were forced to recall hundreds of thousands of masks from China in March last year after they failed to meet quality standards.

In April, India cancelled orders for half a million faulty Covid-19 testing kits after some states reported they had an accuracy rate of as little as six per cent.

China said it would step up quality checks on medical equipment exports that month and exports of medical supplies increased throughout the year.

The country remains the world's largest producer and exporter of personal protective equipment as many countries are still grappling with the pandemic, which has now killed more than 1.4 million people worldwide.

Copyright (c) 2021. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Watch more on iWantTFC