Across the world, as public officials and companies rush to respond to the coronavirus pandemic, investigators and good-government advocates are detecting a surge in abuse of public funds, ranging from irregularities to nepotism in the awarding of contracts and old-fashioned graft by corrupt networks.

The abuse of public funds is widespread, in both developing countries and the West, within established democracies and authoritarian regimes. Predators range from nefarious state organisations to traditional criminal networks. They grab food shipments dedicated for relief to those impoverished by the pandemic. They jack up prices for medical supplies. They direct contracts to friends and relatives.

Already officials have been caught up in schemes. In Zimbabwe, the health minister has been charged with shady dealings in a $20m purchase of coronavirus equipment. In Ecuador, a former president has been arrested on charges of pilfering a local hospital for medical equipment. And in the United States, a cabinet official has been redirecting relief funds for public schools grappling with the aftermath of the pandemic to her own pet projects.

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