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2021.06.12 10:00

Health Ministry held back information on missing PPE supplies from China – LRT Investigation

Rūta Juknevičiūtė, Jurga Tvaskienė, LRT Investigation Team2021.06.12 10:00

Back in April, the Lithuanian Health Ministry launched legal proceedings over missing personal protective equipment (PPE) shipment from China worth 912,000 euros. However, the Health Ministry was long aware of delivery mismatches, and its subsidiary altered invoices to match the information on the contract, LRT Investigation Team reports.   

Despite customs records claiming the whole shipment had reached Lithuania, much of it could have still gotten lost along the way, according to Lithuania’s former health minister Aurelijus Veryga.

Last March, Lithuania signed a contract with the Chinese company Harbin Shangyang Trading Co Ltd for a 24-million-euro delivery of personal protective equipment (PPE).

At the end of April, the Health Emergency Situations Centre turned to the country’s law enforcement over discrepancies between the order and what had actually been delivered. The center reported missing over 800,000 items worth 911,896.40 euros.

LRT Investigation Team received proof that both the former head of the centre, Olegas Sitnikovas, and the former health minister Aurelijus Veryga, already knew about missing goods a year ago, with Sitnikovas admitting in an email to Veryga that the centre does not have any information on the quantity of PPE in the shipment.

Read more: Lithuania investigates missing 20 train cars of PPE supplies from China

Minister was informed

According to a document signed by Sitnikovas, the Health Emergency Situations Center asked for clarification about the exact amount of PPE received by the Lithuanian Post and delivered to the medics.

The former Health minister and operations manager Aurelijus Veryga does not recall Sitnikovas’ request.

Sitnikovas left his position as the Head of the Center not even a month after legal proceedings regarding missing goods were launched, reportedly for health problems, and could not be reached.

Less than a month after legal proceedings surrounding the missing goods were launched, Sitnikovas left his position as the head of the centre, reportedly due to health problems. He could not be reached for comment.

According to Ingrida Andrulytė from the Health Emergency Situations Center’s Administrative Department, health institutions had to submit delivery and acceptance certificates to the center, and the quantities of goods in the certificates did not always match those in the contract. The center would inform the minister of such inaccuracies.

However, the center only noticed significant discrepancies between quantities in January this year whn counting the remaining supplies.

Certificates altered to suppliers’ request

The 24-million-euro PPE shipment was being delivered to Lithuania from March 28, 2020 until August, and was counted in boxes rather than units. The Lithuanian Post received a total of 75,887 boxes of PPE supplies, with 21,282 boxes stored at the warehouse of the Health Emergency Situations Center for later distribution.

Health institutions recorded received deliveries in units, and submitted the signed delivery and acceptance certificates to the center. That was when the actual quantities of PPE surfaced.

The Health Emergency Situations Center believes that the shipment could have been stolen or lost in Lithuania, since documents issued by the Transport Ministry, customs and the Chinese supplier confirm that all of the goods laid out in the contract arrived in Lithuania.

However, according to a well-informed source, there were discrepancies between quantities delivered and those in certificates already in March last year.

The Lithuanian postal service would sometimes receive more or less goods than originally ordered. Ramūnas Dilba from the Transport Ministry says that there were cases when shipments of similar size had different amounts of goods written in their declarations.

The source told LRT Investigation Team that the Chinese supplier was contacted about such inaccuracies, and then the missing goods would be sent with the following delivery. Sometimes Lithuanian Post was asked to alter the invoices based on information provided by the supplier.

Discrepancies in statements

According to the statements from the Transport Ministry, the quantities delivered only matched what was stated in certificates until April 2020, and the data, in many cases, began to differ since.

The Chinese supplier declared goods worth 44,369.65 euros more than stated in the contract to the customs. What is more, The declarations of shipments for April 4 and 6 last year stated that the delivered goods were worth 2.19 million euros, while the sum recorded by the Health Emergency Situations Center was only 1.87 million euros.

The centre admitted having made minor changes to some of the invoices, such as changing the currency from dollar to euro. However, the analysis of documents showed that a month after the entire shipment was already delivered, the supplier contacted the centre with requests to alter the invoices with amounts and that would match what was laid out in contract.

Lithuania has yet to pay Harbin Shangyang Trading Co Ltd the remaining 5 percent from the total cost of the delivery. The payment was postponed following the discovery of incomplete deliveries.

Read more: Chinese respirators come with missing papers, fake certificates – LRT Investigation

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