The National Crime Agency has launched a potential fraud investigation into a PPE company linked to Michelle Mone and searched the Tory peer’s shared home.
The NCA investigation is into PPE Medpro, a company that secured more than £200m in government contracts near the start of the pandemic without public tender.
On Wednesday, the agency searched several properties associated with the company in the Isle of Man and London. They included the Isle of Man office building where PPE Medpro is registered and the mansion where Lady Mone lives with her husband, the business magnate Douglas Barrowman.
The Isle of Man constabulary confirmed that search warrants were executed at four addresses on the island on Wednesday “in support of an ongoing NCA investigation”. There were no arrests.
More than a dozen law enforcement officers are understood to have turned up unexpectedly at the Knox House building in the island’s capital, Douglas, where the Isle of Man PPE Medpro company is registered. One witness described the building being guarded by officers both at its front and rear.
The officers are understood to have seized documents, computers, phones and other electronic devices from the building.
Also searched was a Wardour Street address in central London, the office of the UK-registered PPE Medpro company that was awarded two government contracts worth £203m. A member of staff at that building told the Guardian: “It’s a ‘no comment’ all round.” Lawyers for PPE Medpro declined to comment.
There is no evidence that the NCA’s investigation is connected to matters that have previously been the subject of public controversy. However, the investigation is likely to resurface questions about the wider £12bn in PPE contracts the government awarded during the pandemic under emergency rules that bypassed normal competitive tender processes.
It will also put renewed focus on both PPE Medpro and the process through which the company secured its government contracts. It has been the focus of multiple controversies in recent months that have embroiled Mone and other senior Tories including Michael Gove, Theodore Agnew and James Bethell.
The company was one of 51 businesses that were processed through a “VIP lane” operated by the government to fast-track companies that had been recommended by politically connected individuals.
The Guardian has previously reported that Mone approached Gove, Lord Agnew and Lord Bethell on behalf of PPE Medpro. All were at the time ministers involved in pandemic procurement.
Mone appears to have been instrumental in PPE Medpro being entered into the “high priority” VIP lane by Agnew in May 2020.
In January the Guardian reported that leaked files appeared to suggest Mone and Barrowman were secretly involved in the PPE Medpro business. At the time, Mone’s lawyers said in response that the Guardian’s findings were “grounded entirely on supposition and speculation and not based on accuracy”.
The House of Lords standards commissioner, Martin Jelley, then launched an investigation, which is still ongoing, into whether Mone’s links to the company breached rules relating to members. She has denied any wrongdoing.
Responding to previous stories, Mone’s lawyers have said any suggestion of an association or collusion between the Tory peer and PPE Medpro would be “inaccurate” and that she was not involved in the business. “Baroness Mone is neither an investor, director or shareholder in any way associated with PPE Medpro. She has never had any role or function in PPE Medpro, nor in the process by which contracts were awarded to PPE Medpro.”
Mone’s lawyers have said that after she undertook the “simple, solitary and brief step” of referring PPE Medpro to the government she did nothing further in respect of the company.
Lawyers for Barrowman have similarly distanced him from the company, but they have not commented on whether he financially benefited from the firm.
It is not known whether the searches of PPE Medpro-associated properties are part of a wider investigation by the NCA into potential fraud related to PPE procurement during the pandemic. In a statement, the NCA said: “The NCA does not routinely confirm or deny the existence of investigations or the names of those who may or may not be under investigation.”
PPE Medpro’s first government contract, worth £80.85m for the supply of face masks, was awarded by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) in late May 2020. The second, a £122m contract to supply 25m sterile surgical gowns, was awarded in June 2020 but has been the subject of a significant contractual dispute.
The government rejected PPE Medpro’s gowns after checks in the UK and has said it is seeking to recover its money through a dispute resolution process. PPE Medpro has maintained that it complied with the terms of its gowns contract and is entitled to keep the money it was paid.