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UK official resigns over Covid loan fraud

LONDON: A UK government minister resigned on Monday in protest over the government’s handling of fraudulent loans granted as part of a pandemic business support scheme.

Theodore Agnew, a minister at the Cabinet Office and Treasury with a seat in the House of Lords, dramatically walked out after resigning from his posts during a speech criticising the “Bounce Back Loan Scheme”.

While Agnew said he was not resigning over the “Partygate” allegations surrounding Prime Minister Boris Johnson, it was another blow to his government’s reputation.

Agnew’s resignation came after the Treasury revealed in documents published online this month that it expects to write off 4.3 billion in Covid payments lost to fraudulent claims. The country’s consumer spending watchdog in December estimated the fraud cost at 4.9 billion.

Agnew complained that oversight by the ministry for business and a government-owned development bank had been “nothing less than woeful”, criticising “schoolboy errors” in the way loans were allocated.

He added that the Treasury appeared “to have no knowledge or little interest in the consequences of fraud to our economy or our society,” claiming his counter-fraud team was unable to work effectively.

“Given that I am the minister for counter-fraud, it would be somewhat dishonest to stay on in that role if I am incapable of doing it properly, let alone defending our track record,” he said. He pinned the blame on a “combination of arrogance, indolence and arrogance” that “freezes the Government machine”.

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2022

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