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Former UK counter-fraud minister attacks Starling for Poor performance in COVID fraud investigation

The former UK government counter-fraud minister, who resigned spectacularly in January over the government's "woeful" oversight of the COVID bounceback loan scheme, has launched a scathing attack on Starling for its poor performance in preventing COVID fraud.

Lord Agnew slammed online bank Starling, alleging that it had "acted against the government and taxpayers' interests," and that it was one of the worst banks for preventing COVID-19 fraud and flagging suspicious transactions.

According to The Times, Lord Agnew said in a speech at Westminster Abbey that Starling had used the government scheme as a "cost-free marketing exercise" while failing to take its anti-fraud responsibilities seriously.

"They took this as a god-sent opportunity to swell their balance sheet by a factor of 50 times in barely less than a year with no risk to themselves and 100% risk to the taxpayer," Lord Agnew said.

When it came to assessing borrowers' turnover claims on the COVID-19 bounceback loan scheme, he claimed Starling was "one of the worst" performers. Banks provided loans of up to £50,000 underwritten by the taxpayer as part of the scheme.

Anne Boden, Starling's CEO and founder, said she was "shocked" by Lord Agnew's remarks, adding that Starling had been "one of the most active and effective banks fighting fraud."

"The comments about not checking the turnover of businesses or submitting suspicious activity reports are absolutely and utterly wrong and I must ask him to withdraw the statement," she added.

Lord Agnew is also expected to testify against the UK government in an attempt to force the identification of those who benefited from the emergency pandemic measures.

Lord Agnew revealed he would be supporting a campaign group's attempt to highlight COVID-19 beneficiaries at a fraud conference earlier this week.

He accused the government of "ludicrous defensiveness" in its efforts to keep the COVID-19 schemes secret, claiming that officials gave "spurious reasons" to prevent full transparency.

The scheme, which provided 1.6 million loans underwritten by the taxpayer, is expected to result in fraud losses of £4 billion. Lord Agnew slammed the scheme, calling it a "vital intervention at an extraordinary time but [were] dreadfully implemented."

Spotlight on Corruption has called for complete transparency after the government's British Business Bank refused to reveal information on beneficiaries. Lord Agnew announced yesterday that he had decided to testify before the tribunal, stating that he was "reluctant to do so" but that "the clock is ticking."

The British Business Bank previously claimed that current data protection regulations prevent taxpayers from knowing who benefited from loans, claiming that this would lead to "informal, almost vigilante activity."

Lord Agnew claimed in January that the UK Treasury had "little interest in the consequences of fraud to our society," and that "a combination of arrogance, indolence, and ignorance" was "freezing the government machine."

After it was revealed that the government had approved COVID-19 loans to 1000 companies that were not trading when the pandemic began, he blasted the government for making "schoolboy errors."

The UK Treasury was also revealed to have written off more than £4 billion in public funds stolen by fraudsters from Covid support schemes.

HM Revenue & Customs figures show that £5.8 billion was stolen from Covid relief funds, which included the country's furlough and self-employment schemes.

The UK government established a taskforce to return funds to the public purse, and it is estimated that £500 million was recovered from scammers last year, with a goal of recovering another £1 billion by 2023.

According to the Times of London, the Treasury now expects to recover just £1 for every £4 stolen from the Exchequer, implying that only 26% of funds will be recovered.



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