Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 3 December 2020

UK ‘paid £21m to Spanish go-between to help source PPE’

Spanish businessman struck lucrative deal with US supplier as Britain's supplies ran short

US jewellery designer Michael Saiger set up a company to supply PPE to governments. Getty Images
US jewellery designer Michael Saiger set up a company to supply PPE to governments. Getty Images

The British government paid a Spanish businessman £21 million ($28m) to source personal protective equipment for National Health Service staff as supplies ran critically short at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Gabriel Gonzalez Andersson, a consultant who acted as a go-between for a US supplier and manufacturers, was also in line for a further $20m of taxpayers' money, the BBC reported.

Legal documents show the US supplier, Florida-based jewellery designer Michael Saiger, described the PPE deals as lucrative.

Details of who has benefited from deals struck by the UK are only now becoming apparent, thanks to a legal dispute playing out in Miami.

According to court documents, Mr Saiger set up a business to supply PPE from China as authorities raced to shore up supplies.

He enlisted Mr Andersson for the “procurement, logistics, due diligence, product sourcing and quality control" of PPE.

The Spaniard was paid more than $28m to work on two government contracts, and in June Mr Saiger signed a further three contacts to supply the NHS with gloves and surgical gowns.

But it is alleged once those agreements were signed, Mr Andersson stopped working for Mr Saiger, who was left scrambling to fulfil the contracts.

It is not clear that Mr Andersson benefited from the additional contracts.

The Department of Health and Social Care has published contracts with Mr Saiger's company totalling more than £200m.

The contracts were not open to competitive tender.

The Good Law Project, which is challenging the government over the deals in UK courts, on Twitter said the contract was unlawful.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson tested negative for coronavirus.

Mr Johnson’s office said he was tested using a lateral flow test – a quick procedure that does not need to be processed in a lab.

The tests are not widely available in the UK, but Downing Street staff could get them as part of a pilot project.

Mr Johnson will continue to self-isolate for 14 days per government guidelines.

Earlier, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick suggested tougher restrictions may be needed in the top band of England's tier system.

Asked if there could be a tougher tier than Tier 3 in the new system, Mr Jenrick told the BBC: “We haven’t come to a decision on that.

“The Tier 3 that we had before was just considered a baseline.

“And then we did ask local areas whether they would be willing to go further and some did."

He said that it was his "hope and expectation" that lockdown would end on December 2.

The Office for National Statistics reported on Tuesday that UK coronavirus deaths had officially hit their highest level since mid-May.

There were 1,937 deaths involving coronavirus in the week ending November 6, a 40 per cent increase on the week before, the ONS said.

Updated: November 17, 2020 09:20 PM

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