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Man in Custody for COVID-19 PPE Contract Fraud

PPE Medpro has faced controversy over the so-called ‘VIP lane’ contracts it received after being referred to the government by a Conservative peer.

An individual has been detained as part of a National Crime Agency (NCA) inquiry into PPE Medpro, a private company that secured lucrative government contracts during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“A 46-year-old male from Barnet, London, was apprehended yesterday morning, 12 June, at his residence as part of an ongoing NCA investigation into potential criminal activities relating to the procurement of PPE contracts by PPE Medpro,” the NCA stated on Thursday.

The individual has since been released, according to the agency.

PPE Medpro has been embroiled in controversy over the “VIP lane” contracts that were allocated to certain companies by the government during the pandemic.

The Department of Health and Social Care granted government contracts worth over £200 million to PPE Medpro shortly after its establishment in May 2020. The company was headed by Doug Barrowman and was put forward to the government by Mr. Barrowman’s wife, Baroness Michelle Mone.

Baroness Mone, who hails from Glasgow, was ennobled in 2015 under the Conservatives and served in the House of Lords until 2022. She went on leave in December 2022 amid an inquiry into her alleged involvement in securing contracts for PPE Medpro, potentially violating the House of Lords Code of Conduct.

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The government proceeded with legal action against PPE Medpro regarding the second contract it received, valued at £122 million for gown supply, which were deemed unsuitable for use.

PPE Medpro has refuted this allegation, while Baroness Mone has disassociated herself from the company. Both Baroness Mone and Mr. Barrowman have denied any wrongdoing.

Procurement Issues

In a statement released in January, Mr. Barrowman expressed frustration at the treatment he and his family received from the British media over the past three years.

He claimed that the prices offered by Medpro for PPE supplies were highly competitive and saved the government at least £100 million compared to other competitors at the time.

Mr. Barrowman also clarified that the government only paid for the gowns—later deemed unsuitable for use—once they were satisfied with the product.

He further mentioned that he and Baroness Mone were being scapegoated to divert attention from government ineptitude in handling PPE procurement during a national emergency.

Baroness Michelle Mone pictured ahead of the State Opening of Parliament by Queen Elizabeth II, in the House of Lords, London, on June 21, 2017. (Stefan Rousseau/PA Media)
Baroness Michelle Mone pictured ahead of the State Opening of Parliament by Queen Elizabeth II, in the House of Lords, London, on June 21, 2017. (Stefan Rousseau/PA Media)

“Medpro supplied the Government with 1.5% of PPE expenditure (£202 million) out of a total of £13.1 billion, and yet the media or the Government refuses to address the other 98.5% of PPE supplied; much of which was defective or never used and/or provided under similar circumstances to the Medpro contracts,” Mr. Barrowman stated.

The Public Accounts Committee has identified recurring problems with the government’s procurement practices in recent years, including weak financial controls, inadequate due diligence and conflicts of interest management, and lack of transparency.

The committee emphasized that the “need for speed” did not justify hasty contract decisions without proper diligence or consideration for public funds.

Aside from Medpro, the high-priority lane saw several other companies and PPE suppliers referred by MPs, peers, ministers, and senior officials.

Meller Designs received six PPE and hand sanitiser contracts valued at £164 million after a recommendation by Michael Gove, who was a Cabinet Office minister at the time. Brandology Ltd, another expedited PPE supplier, was referred by Conservative MP Julian Lewis and was granted contracts worth nearly £100 million.

In 2022, the High Court declared the use of the high-priority lane as unlawful.

Alongside the government’s legal action, PPE Medpro is under investigation by the NCA. The agency initiated its inquiry in May 2021 to probe potential criminal violations in the procurement of PPE contracts by PPE Medpro.

In April 2022, the NCA conducted searches at Baroness Mone’s and Mr. Barrowman’s residences, as well as the company’s offices in London and the Isle of Man.

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