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$1.3 Billion in COVID Relief Funds Ended Up Overseas, Says Inspector General

Small Business Administration's top watchdog says agency may have funded international criminal organizations

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• September 13, 2022 4:25 pm

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The Small Business Administration awarded up to $1.3 billion in pandemic relief to unqualified foreign applicants that may have included international criminal organizations, according to a report from the agency's inspector general.

The report, released Monday, found the SBA approved and distributed 41,638 loans and grants to foreign applicants between March 20, 2020, and Nov. 12, 2021, through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan program. Congress directed the SBA to provide these grants to businesses located in the United States that were impacted by the pandemic, but the agency acknowledged it failed to provide proper oversight of awards issued to foreign entities. The report found the SBA approved 3,097 grants for applicants in six unspecified "high-risk" countries, distributing $14.3 million to the recipients.

"The numerous applications submitted from foreign IP addresses are an indication of potential fraud that may involve international criminal organizations," the report concluded.

The report is not the first to identify vast fraud throughout the program. A congressional oversight investigation in June concluded that 41 percent of the 3.9 million approved loan applications may not have been reviewed by the agency.

The agency report comes as the SBA's Paycheck Protection Program faces similar criticism over potential widespread fraud. An inspector general report in May concluded that the agency "did not have an organizational structure" to manage fraud. Labor unions, which were ineligible for PPP, received $36.7 million in loans through the program, the Washington Free Beacon reported.

Christina Carr, an SBA spokeswoman, said the Biden administration has worked to provide more oversight over pandemic relief policies that were implemented under the Trump administration.

"SBA successfully stopped most of the applications from foreign IP addresses and is committed to ensuring that effective fraud controls are in place for future programs," Carr told the Free Beacon.

The potential fraud detailed in the report, however, extended through the first 10 months of the Biden administration, and EIDL applications stopped in January. Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer (R., Mo.), ranking member of the Small Business Committee, said the inspector general report shows there are still insufficient measures in place for the agency to track down fraud.

"The SBA is not outfitted with the necessary infrastructure to manage large-scale and direct loan programs such as EIDL," Luetkemeyer told the Free Beacon. "With the already challenging task of recovering fraudulent funds now compounded with potential foreign criminal elements, the SBA requires significant programmatic reforms to prevent even more losses."