Thursday, January 20

Conservative fellow Michelle Mone is secretly involved in a PPE company that she referred to the government | Coronavirus


The leaked files appear to suggest that fellow conservative Michelle Mone and her husband, Douglas Barrowman, were secretly involved in a PPE deal that received more than £ 200 million in government contracts after she referred it to the Cabinet Office.

Barrowman, an Isle of Man-based financier, may have played a central role in the trade deal that allowed PPE Medpro to sell millions of masks and surgical gowns to the government at the start of the pandemic, the documents suggest.

A person heavily involved in PPE Medpro claimed that Barrowman was “part of the financial consortium that backed” the company and even participated in initial conversations with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

Documents seen by The Guardian suggest that he and Lady Mone were kept informed about specific trade agreements regarding PPE Medpro supplies. And Mone appears to have messaged someone in PPE Medpro’s supply chain about the contract to supply dresses.

The pair’s apparent involvement in PPE Medpro’s business activities, which accelerated through the government’s “VIP lane” after Mone’s referral, will reignite controversy over Conservative-linked companies profiting from government contracts. during the pandemic. It will also raise questions about Mone and Barrowman’s repeated attempts to distance themselves from PPE Medpro.

The identities of the people behind PPE Medpro, which received contracts from the government in May and June 2020, has been an enduring mystery ever since and the subject of considerable speculation.

Citing confidentiality obligations, PPE Medpro, which was created weeks before landing the lucrative government contracts, has consistently refused to identify what it described as the “consortium of successful entrepreneurs who make up, have financed and supported” the company.

It wasn’t until November 2021, 18 months after PPE Medpro won its first contract, that a Freedom of Information Act request revealed that Mone had referred the company to the Cabinet Office, leading to its prosecution. through the high priority VIP lane for political purposes. connected companies.

Attorneys for Mone, who ran a lingerie company before David Cameron made her a member of the House of Lords, have always said that she was “not related to PPE Medpro in any way.” They also said that she had no “association” with PPE Medpro, and that she “never had any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded” to the company.

Once it became public that she had recommended the PPE Medpro to the Cabinet Office, Mone’s attorneys said that after the referral, which they described as a “very simple, lonely and brief step,” she “did nothing else with regarding PPE Medpro ”.

Contacted about the new Guardian findings, Mone’s lawyers said their report was “based entirely on assumptions and speculation and not precision” and declined to provide direct answers to a series of detailed questions. “It appears you also misunderstand our client’s responsibilities to you,” they said. “She has no obligation to tell you anything.”

Barrowman’s lawyers have also repeatedly distanced him from the company, saying he “never had any role or function at PPE Medpro” and stating that he was not an investor, director or shareholder of the company. In a statement issued in December 2020, PPE Medpro said: “Mr. Barrowman was not personally involved in the work for PPEM in connection with the PPE contracts.”

Lead actor

However, multiple sources and leaked files seen by The Guardian shed new light on PPE Medpro, its supply chain, and the trade agreement that enabled the newly created company to become a major player in the supply of personal protective equipment amidst a frenzied global competition for supplies. .

UK registered PPE Medpro Ltd, which was incorporated on May 12, 2020, was actually a subsidiary of another company that had been set up on the Isle of Man the day before, under the same name.

A director of the PPE Medpro versions for the Isle of Man and the UK was Anthony Page. A longtime employee at Barrowman’s Isle of Man-based financial services company Knox Group, Page also runs Barrowman’s family office.

During the same week that PPE Medpro was formed, it signed a crucial business agreement with London-based importing company Loudwater Trade and Finance Ltd, which committed to purchasing gowns and masks from factories in China.

The contracts were signed by Page, the authorized signatory of PPE Medpro. However, documents seen by The Guardian appear to show that Barrowman was personally involved in establishing the PPE Medpro deal with Loudwater director Maurice Stimler, as well as related business matters.

Documents apparently setting out the terms of the three-year deal show that the companies agreed to split the profits evenly with clearly delineated responsibilities. Loudwater would “manage and secure China’s supply chain for key EPP items” and take responsibility for importing and delivering the products.

PPE Medpro’s role was to use their contacts to get business with the UK government. One document states that the Isle of Man company would use its “extensive network to try to secure ongoing order contracts with the NHS and other government agencies within the British Isles.”

The apparent deals between the two companies were concluded on May 11, 2020, the leaked materials suggest. It is not known exactly when Mone referred PPE Medpro to the office of Theodore Agnew, a fellow Conservative and Cabinet Office minister closely involved in procurement for the NHS.

It is understood that his remission occurred at that time. Lord Agnew then referred PPE Medpro to the VIP lane, a fast track process established by DHSC procurement teams for company PPE supply offers referred by ministers, parliamentarians, NHS officials or others with political connections.

Under the emergency rules introduced at the time, the government had abandoned the competitive bidding procedures generally used for procurement. Later, the analysis would show that companies that entered the VIP lane were 10 times more likely to win contracts with the UK government.

Less than three weeks after starting its business with Loudwater, PPE Medpro won a £ 80.85 million government contract to supply £ 210 million face masks. The following month, in June 2020, she won the second government contract worth £ 122 million to supply 25 million dresses.

It is unknown what, if anything, Mone told Agnew’s office about whether she or her husband were involved in PPE Medpro. However, files seen by The Guardian appear to show his involvement in PPE Medpro’s business affairs in June 2020, after the company obtained its first contract with DHSC and during the period in which it was seeking to secure the second.

Documents from that time appear to show that both Mone and Barrowman were included in the correspondence between PPE Medpro suppliers on the cost price of the gowns.

WhatsApp messages believed to have been sent by Mone around the same time appear to show her discussing required dress sizes and details about the DHSC purchase order or “PO” process.

In an exchange that is understood to have taken place days before PPE Medpro landed its second contract on June 25, 2020, a person in the supply chain appears to ask “Lady Michelle” for a conversation about required sizes for dresses.

The reply apparently sent by Mone says: “We are about to take off in the jet. The sizes are in the order. We’re waiting for the official PO, this should arrive today. “Moments later, he seems to add,” They tell you not to start until you have this purchase order. “

When asked about the messages, Mone’s lawyers said that he could not be expected to comment on “unknown and unattributable WhatsApp messages allegedly sent 19 months ago.” They added: “We have no idea, and neither does our client, of the content of the WhatsApp messages to which it refers, the recipients, the context and perhaps most importantly where they came from.”

Profits

PPE Medpro’s contracts with the government generated profits for a number of other companies that became involved in its newly established global supply chain. Among them were Loudwater, additional intermediaries who received substantial payments to offshore companies, and the Hong Kong-based trading company Eric Beare, which was the original source of the PPE produced in China.

The Guardian understands that PPE Medpro may have grossed more than £ 40 million from its DHSC contracts. The company declined to say whether that figure was accurate. Responding to questions on behalf of PPE Medpro, Page accused The Guardian of conducting an “improper witch hunt” against the company based on “incorrect information.”

He declined to comment on whether the company was seeking further contracts with the UK government’s test-and-trace program in February 2021, as suggested in a recent report in the Financial Times.

He cited a leaked email from an official, dated February 10, 2021, which appeared to suggest that Mone was lobbying government officials on behalf of PPE Medpro.

In the email, Jacqui Rock, commercial director of the government’s test and trace program, reportedly told her colleagues: “We have a problem here. Baroness Mone is going with Michael Gove and Matt Hancock today as she is incandescent with rage at the way she thinks Medpro has been treating. [sic] in the matter.”

Mone’s attorneys declined to say why a public official may have perceived her as “incandescent with rage” over PPE Medpro’s treatment as recently as February 2021. Attorneys said the “quoted material” from the leaked email was inaccurate. , but did not provide further explanation.

Barrowman’s lawyers said the Guardian reports amounted to “holding onto straws” and were “largely incorrect.” They added: “Our client’s desire not to disclose private or confidential information should not be taken as an assumption that any of their statements or conclusions are correct or have not been disputed.”

Do you have information on this story? Email [email protected], or use Signal or WhatsApp to send a message (UK) +44 7584 640566 or (US) +1 646 886 8761.


www.theguardian.com

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