Suppliers of PPE for a company linked to the Conservative peer Michelle Mone were also involved during the Covid pandemic in supplying millions of face masks to the Australian government that were rejected over safety concerns.
Australia’s Department of Health and Aged Care told the Guardian that of 50m face masks supplied to fulfil a government contract awarded to a small online retailer, Australian Business Mobiles (ABM), the overwhelming majority – 45.7m – were deemed unusable for its health service. A department spokesperson said five of seven manufacturers that supplied the masks were “deemed non-compliant with quality regulations”.
The masks were delivered to Australia’s national medical stockpile on mixed pallets, the spokesperson said, so it was not possible to ascertain which masks in the stockpile were compliant. Of the masks that were deployed, two batches were subject to defect notices in March 2022 warning against their use in hospitals and other healthcare settings.
According to documents seen by the Guardian, two of ABM’s suppliers were Cyprus-registered companies named Neumer Holdings and Neumer Trading, which are owned by Ricky and Evan Neumann. The Neumer companies then paid a Hong Kong-based company, Eric Beare Associates, to source the majority of the PPE from Chinese factories. Neumer Trading and Eric Beare were also involved in sourcing the PPE for two UK government contracts worth a total of £203m awarded to PPE Medpro, the company with which Mone and her husband, Douglas Barrowman, were involved.
A spokesperson for Ricky Neumann declined to comment on the record about the rejected face masks. Evan Neumann, Andrew Sack, a director of Eric Beare, and Jack Reuben, the owner of ABM, did not respond to questions.
Of the equipment that PPE Medpro supplied in the UK, the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) rejected the entire consignment of surgical gowns under one of the two contracts. The DHSC is suing PPE Medpro for recovery of all the £122m it paid, arguing that the gowns were unsafe. PPE Medpro is defending the claim, arguing that the gowns were fit for purpose.
The two Australian government contracts were issued to ABM in the spring of 2020, amid the frantic global race for PPE stocks, and around the same time PPE Medpro secured its deals with the UK government.
PPE Medpro had no involvement in the Australian PPE contracts. It was awarded its two UK contracts in May and June 2020 – to supply millions of face masks and gowns – after Mone first approached the then Cabinet Office ministers Michael Gove and Theodore Agnew, telling them she could supply PPE through “my team in Hong Kong”.
The PPE Medpro contracts prompted a political outcry last year after the Guardian reported that bank documents indicated Mone had received £29m from its profits. The documents indicated that Barrowman had received at least £65m from the profits, then transferred the £29m to an offshore trust for Mone and her three adult children.
Mone’s lawyer said in response at that time that there were “a number of reasons why our client cannot comment on these issues”. Barrowman’s lawyer said a continuing investigation limited what his client could say, but added that “there is much inaccuracy in the portrayal of the alleged ‘facts’ and a number of them are completely wrong”.
The Guardian also revealed last December that PPE Medpro was listed as a secret entity of the Isle of Man family office that manages Barrowman’s wealth.
Both then and previously Mone and Barrowman had denied they were involved in the company.
Responding to questions about the Australian face masks contract in which two of its intermediary companies were involved, a PPE Medpro spokesperson said it was “completely unconnected” to its UK contracts.
“PPE Medpro successfully fulfilled its 210m [face] mask order for the UK NHS in conjunction with its consortium partners Eric Beare Associates and Loudwater Trade & Finance,” he said. “All masks were delivered on time, to specification and at an extremely competitive price.”
Regarding the dispute over the unused gowns, the PPE Medpro spokesperson said: “The DHSC case is weak and should be resolved shortly.”
A government spokesperson said: “We have launched legal proceedings against the firm in question and as such it would be inappropriate to comment further.”