ABU DHABI, April 19 (Reuters) – From a small office in an Abu Dhabi skyscraper, Ukrainian national Natalya Muzaleva and her Hungarian husband Istvan Perger run an art gallery, a real estate agency and an oil services company .
They also sued another business: selling COVID-19 vaccines in Europe.
Muzaleva wrote a proposal to the Czech ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, reviewed by Reuters and dated February 24, offering to procure and sell at least 1 million doses to the Czech Republic from Covishield, the drugmaker’s shot Anglo-Swedish AstraZeneca (AZN .L).
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She said the vaccines would be supplied by an anonymous partner of AstraZeneca’s “UK and Indian factory” and delivery would follow within 45 days of receipt of payment.
Although the Czech government did not accept the offer, it came to light on March 3 when Prime Minister Andrej Babis, targeting Muzaleva by name, told a press conference that he would not support not the “black market”.
Attached to her cell phone number, Muzaleva said there had been “no deal” but declined to discuss the matter further. She did not respond to subsequent written questions. Reuters could not establish whether Muzaleva was able to access the vaccines.
After the Czech government made the unsolicited offer public, AstraZeneca said there should be no private sector supply deal for the sale or distribution of the vaccine in Europe. Read more
The drugmaker did not respond to requests for additional comment for this story on Muzaleva’s proposal.
The Abu Dhabi media office also did not respond when asked whether authorities were aware of Muzaleva’s offer or whether they had investigated.
Muzaleva’s email, details of which were not previously released, offers another window into how individuals have tried to make money by donating vaccines to countries amid a global shortage of drugs. vaccinations and as cases of COVID-19 increase.
In neighboring Germany, the government said it had received several offers of COVID-19 vaccines from intermediaries. His response was to warn the manufacturer, the European Commission and, in some cases, international law enforcement.
“This pandemic creates a gold rush atmosphere in which people are trying to make all kinds of deals,” Health Minister Jens Spahn said at a press conference in Berlin on April 9 on efforts to fight against the pandemic.
“Our government buys exclusively from manufacturers,” he said, responding to a question about whether the government had received unofficial vaccine proposals and how it had handled them.
The European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF), an EU agency, said a dozen European countries had reported offers of intermediaries to sell large quantities of vaccines, with the apparent aim of obtaining installments before disappearing with the money.
These intermediaries were inactive or negotiated very different types of goods until recently, OLAF said in response to questions from Reuters. He declined to discuss specific cases.
They are often located in third countries outside the EU “to make their identification more difficult and difficult to investigate”, added OLAF.
In total, OLAF observed scams or bogus offers for around 1 billion doses of the vaccine, for a total asking price of almost 14 billion euros ($ 17 billion). He did not know of any instance where a government had paid for such a scam.
FIRST COME, FIRST SERVED
Muzaleva’s email was written in stilted English with bad punctuation.
“We will have the privilege of providing you with all the doses you need,” Muzaleva wrote to Czech Ambassador Jiri Slavik.
“I hope to hear from you as soon as possible, it should be noted that vaccines are allocated on a first come, first served basis and that demand is naturally high.”
The Czech embassy referred Reuters to the Foreign Ministry in Prague.
“The embassy considered the offer to be credible also because it (the embassy) had received positive references (about the offer) from the management of the Hungarian embassy,” said a spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Reuters could not independently confirm this. The Hungarian Embassy in Abu Dhabi and the Hungarian government did not respond to requests for comment.
Muzaleva made the offer in her capacity as CFO of a company registered in Abu Dhabi called Enhanced Recovery Company Middle East LLC (ERC).
ERC’s business license covers oil and gas services, general trading, trading in tea, parapharmaceuticals and dietary supplements, according to a company register entry that does not list its owners.
Parapharmaceuticals are alternative medicines.
She requested a 100% advance payment from the Czech authorities, guaranteed by a guarantee from the Commercial Bank of Dubai (CBD.DU) or the First Abu Dhabi Bank (FAB.AD), or a deposit of 25% and the rest. on delivery to ERC. Neither bank responded to requests for comment.
The Abu Dhabi PO Box address given by Muzaleva for the ERC matches that of an art gallery she runs, which mainly exhibits Ukrainian art, and a real estate agency. The agency is run by her husband, Perger, according to two current members and a former staff contacted by Reuters.
Perger is copied in the email Muzaleva sent and is named as the recipient in a draft letter of intent she sent asking Czech authorities to sign to secure the shots from Covishield. He did not respond to written questions or a request for comment from company staff.
The Czech Republic has experienced a difficult pandemic – its cumulative death toll from COVID-19 is the highest of any country in the world, measured as a percentage of the population, according to Our World In Data.
So far, the Czech Republic has administered 2.47 million doses of various vaccines on Sunday.
Figures from the Ministry of Health showed that it administered the first doses to 15% of the population, while 8% of the population was fully vaccinated.
Expressing the reasons why the Czech government turned down the offer, Babis told the March 3 press conference that the government has committed to only purchasing AstraZeneca vaccine directly.
“We will not be supporting a black market and I cannot imagine the state would prepay for a company where this person called Natalya signs,” Babis said, referring to Abu Dhabi’s vaccine offer.
The offer was exorbitant, he added.
“If the offer was $ 22 for AstraZeneca and we can buy it for around $ 2.50, then I really can’t take it seriously.”
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Lisa Barrington reported from Abu Dhabi and Jan Lopatka from Prague; additional reporting by Krisztina Than from Budapest and Douglas Busvine from Berlin; Written by Douglas Busvine; Editing by Mike Collett-White
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