Businessman was paid £21m of taxpayer cash for securing NHS PPE

Haroon Siddique
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

A Spanish businessman was paid more than $28m (£21m) in taxpayers’ money to act as a middleman in the sale of personal protective equipment to the UK government by a Florida-based jewellery designer, according to a US court document.

The document, filed in Miami, states that Gabriel González Andersson stood to earn a further $21.3m in consulting fees, also to be borne by UK taxpayers, for three more PPE contracts between the company Saiger and the government. Saiger was set up this year by Michael Saiger, the owner of the jewellery company Miansai, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

In May, Saiger, whosejewellery is sold in more than 35 countries, told the Council of Fashion Designers of America that Miansai’s business had slowed. He said: “I am spending my days procuring PPE supplies for local charities, shelters and governments.”

According to the court document, by drawing on contacts in China, Saiger’s new company “was able to secure a number of lucrative contracts with the government of the United Kingdom”. It says that Andersson “did very well under this arrangement, and for his assistance in the completion of two contracts, was paid more than $28m”.

The US court case concerns a dispute between Saiger and Andersson relating to three further contracts agreed in June to supply millions of gloves and gowns to the UK, under which Andersson was to be paid an additional $21.3m in fees.

The contracts signed between Saiger and Andersson specified that he would provide services including “sourcing the manufacturer, due diligence and coordinating logistics”.

The details raise fresh concerns about the vast sums of money the UK government has paid during the coronavirus crisis to private companies. PPE contracts signed with other companies, include one worth £252m signed in April with Ayanda Capital, which describes itself as specialising in currency trading and offshore property, and 11 with Pestfix, primarily a pest control business.

Separately, in the UK, Good Law Project and EveryDoctor launched legal proceedings on Tuesday against the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) over the award of PPE contracts worth more than £250m in total to Saiger.

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One of the contracts, entered into on 4 June for £70.5m of gowns (of which $16m was due to go to Andersson according to the US document) was for the supply of 10.2m gowns, approximately the entire number of gowns used by NHS England for the duration of the coronavirus pandemic, but was offered without any advertisement or competitive tender process, the claimants say. They also allege that the government overpaid Saiger for gowns under this contract, relative to the prevailing market price.

Jolyon Maugham QC, director of Good Law Project, said: “At last we can all see – in simple black and white – the staggering sums flowing from public coffers to private pockets. Who could blame individuals for joining the queue if government is handing out free money? But you and I – and our children – are going to have to pay higher taxes because government’s incompetence handed fortunes big enough to last generations to obscure foreign businessmen.

“We consider the award of this contract, as with so many others this government has entered into, to be unlawful. If the answers from government aren’t good enough, and we expect they won’t be, we will issue proceedings.”

Dr Julia Patterson, of the campaign group EveryDoctor, said: “It is quite simply heartbreaking to NHS staff to see this mismanagement of public funds exposed.”

The claimants say notices of the contracts were not published until five months after the contracts were awarded, in breach of the law which requires government to make the details available within 30 days. The measures are designed to reduce the risk of fraud and improve value for money by allowing proper scrutiny of how taxpayer cash is spent.

A DHSC spokesperson said: “Proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts, and we take these checks extremely seriously.”

Andersson’s lawyer, Jonathan Morton, declined to comment on the US proceedings when contacted by the Guardian.

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