A French citizen was arrested during a border control while returning from Germany. A cavity search revealed dozens of preservatives filled with 2,500 contraband surgical masks.
The shortages caused by the coronavirus are driving certain people to try and profit from the rising prices of certain goods like toilet paper, hand sanitizer and surgical masks.
47-year old François von Bitemole, from Strasbourg, works for a German surgical mask factory and travels across the border every day on his scooter to go to work.
According to the French National Gendarmerie spokesman, Colonel Alain Meloche, the accused decided to profit from the shortage in his home country by stealing a few thousand masks every workday from his employer and smuggling them back to France to sell them.
“We received reports from some of his customers who were worried about the origin and safety of his masks. They were right! These things are supposed to be sterile, therefore, shouldn’t be inserted in any cavity before being used.”
Colonel Meloche says the accused had already sold over 8,000 masks across the region, but the vast majority were retrieved before being worn.
“Fortunately, only 200 masks or so had already been used before we seized the rest. This guy could have started an epidemic of a second virus by himself if we hadn’t arrested him.”
Mr. von Bitemole will be accused of facilitating the irregular entry of goods in France and of criminal endangerment of the life of 24 people. If found guilty, he faces 15 years in jail and a fine of €125,000.
According to the Gendarmerie, other arrests are to be expected as the black market for certain first necessity goods has rapidly spawned all across Europe.
Several street gangs in Paris and Marseilles have apparently expanded their drug trafficking operations to sell toilet paper and disposable masks.
The European health authorities warn against buying such black market items from street dealers as some of them may be contaminated or counterfeit.