As children, most of us are taught not to lie. Lying is generally considered to be a bad thing. But, it turns out, our parents and teachers were wrong. It is okay to lie unless it is a crime to do so. These are the thoughts of former model and Tory Baroness Michelle Mone.
She is right, of course, there is no crime of lying. There is a crime of fraud, however. And it is this which she is currently being investigated for by the National Crime Agency.
According to Ms Mone, she is being made a scapegoat for the PPE scandal that is currently coming to light, in part because of the Covid Inquiry but also following investigations by the Good Law Project.
It is estimated that around £2.7 billion of public money was spent fraudulently on PPE that was either overpriced or non-existent. In which case the £200 million paid to Ms Mone and her husband Doug Barrowman is small change indeed.
This was fraud at the highest level by government ministers who, whilst playing down the significance of Covid, were perfectly willing to hand out contracts to their friends and family to cash in on a medical emergency.
Ms Mone was just one of many people who made money out of the Covid crisis. As TV host Susanna Reid asked: “I would like to know why people thought that was an opportunity to make money out of a national crisis when the care and health sectors were on their knees.”
As Jeremy Farrar recounts: “”At that Downing Street meeting with companies selling rapid tests, I saw the same lack of strategic thinking from Boris Johnson. He sat in the middle of the table waving his arms around as he put in offers to buy millions of unproven rapid tests, brushing off the concerns of others in the room who felt, rightly, that test kits needed proper quality control.”
The British Medical Journal has detailed what this level of corruption meant in practice, based on documents procured by the Good Law Project.
“When the government spent £87m on an antibody test whose accuracy Public Health England had expressed concern about, civil servants delayed publication of their evaluation, noting that ‘Number 10 is now aligned’ with holding the information back. Civil servants were over-ruled when attempting to raise safety concerns about ineffective PPE. Companies that provided equipment found unfit for use—such as Ayanda Capital, who won a £250m contract for 50 million unusable masks—are now registered offshore where they can avoid scrutiny. Meanwhile Liz Truss, whose adviser facilitated that deal, was later promoted to foreign secretary.”
According to Michelle Mone she was simply responding to a government call to the House of Lords, of which she is a Conservative Party appointee, to help. She told Laura Kuenssberg: “It was a call to arms for all lords, baronesses, MPs, senior civil servants, to help because they needed massive quantities of PPE. Given the fact that I’ve got 25 years’ manufacturing experience, I looked at Doug and I thought: ‘We can really, really help here,’ and I just know all the key players in the Far East and I made the call to Michael Gove. I just said: ‘We can help, we want to help,’ and he was like: ‘Oh my goodness, this is amazing’.”
The sub-text: why are we not more grateful to a lingerie manufacturer and her tax and wealth advisor husband for stepping up to the plate?
After making the call to Gove, who the Government insists was not involved in PPE procurement, her newly formed company, PPE Medpro, received a contract worth £203 million. This was part of the so-called VIP fast track scheme in which preferred bidders were offered very lucrative contracts.
The BMJ details the numbers involved: companies in the VIP lane were ten times more likely to receive a contract than others, many of whom were established PPE providers; 20% of emergency Covid-19 contracts have subsequently been given ‘red flags’ for possible corruption; £2.2 billion of contracts were handed to Conservative Party affiliates: £3 billion of contracts were awarded that appear to have provided little value and are still being investigated.
Ms Mone, a beneficiary of these contracts, now claims that she saw no part of the £65 million profit. She says: “What my husband decides to do after the event and who benefits from that is at his discretion. I am his wife and I may indirectly benefit, but that’s just like all other families around that are married.” What he did was put the profits into an offshore trust in Michelle Mone’s name. Or, what you might call a direct benefit to her. If we are being really cynical we might add that, when you have a tax avoidance expert on the books, their role, given he knew nothing about PPE, was to ensure the profits were hidden away from public scrutiny. Something he was clearly not very good at.
But it is important to remember that whatever Ms Mone says should be taken with a pinch of salt, for in her interview on the BBC she says she “only” lied to the press which was “not a crime”. In other words, the only time you should not lie is when it is crime. Which would make truth a rather rare commodity, as the only time it is actually a crime to lie is in court (where it is called perjury) or according to the Crown Prosecution Service when committing an act of fraud. Which in this case it seems likely that Michelle Mone and Doug Barrowman were doing.
The Government is currently suing PPE Medpro over the quality of the goods it provided. £122 million of gowns provided by PPE Medpro were unusable according to the Department of Health. But so far the Government has received only 2% of the money it fraudulently gave to companies such as PPE Medpro back. This is a massive scandal and shows the level of corruption at the heart of government and in businesses. It shows clearly that the British establishment cares not a jot for ordinary people who were simply allowed to die either from their incompetence or in the case of medical staff the lack of proper protective equipment. It seems unlikely that the government ministers who devised this scheme will ever see the inside of a court room let alone a prison cell, which tells us, once again, that there really is one law for them and another for us.
Socialist of many years. Former Labour member. Currently presenter of The Socialist Hour.