London: A member of Britain’s House of Lords has acknowledged that she repeatedly lied about her links to a company that was awarded lucrative government contracts to supply protective masks and gowns during the coronavirus pandemic.
Underwear tycoon Michelle Mone said that she had made an “error” in denying connections to the company PPE Medpro, and regretted threatening to sue journalists who alleged she had ties to the firm. Her husband, Doug Barrowman, has acknowledged he led the consortium that owns the company.
“I did make an error in saying to the press that I wasn’t involved,” Mone said in a BBC interview broadcast Sunday. “Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I wasn’t trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes, and I regret and I’m sorry for not saying straight out, ‘Yes, I am involved.’”
Mone admitted that she is a beneficiary of her husband’s financial trusts, which hold about 60 million pounds ($76 million) in profits from the deal.
But she argued that the couple were being made “scapegoats” in a wider scandal about U.K. government spending during the pandemic.
“We’ve done one thing, which was lie to the press to say we weren’t involved,” she said, adding: “I can’t see what we’ve done wrong.”
The case has come to symbolize the hundreds of millions of pounds wasted through hastily awarded contracts for protective equipment. The U.K. government has come under heavy criticism for its so-called VIP lanes during the pandemic — where preferential treatment for public contracts was given to companies recommended by politicians.
Mone, founder of the Ultimo lingerie firm, was appointed to Parliament’s unelected upper house in 2015 by then Prime Minister David Cameron, who is now the U.K. foreign minister. A year ago, she said that she was taking a leave of absence from Parliament to “clear her name” over the scandal.
She repeatedly denied reports that she used her political connections to recommend PPE Medpro to senior government officials. The newly established firm won contracts worth more than 200 million pounds ($250 million) during the height of the first COVID-19 wave in 2020.
Millions of surgical gowns that it supplied to U.K. hospitals were never used, after officials decided they weren’t fit for use, and the government has since issued breach of contract proceedings. The National Crime Agency also is investigating allegations of fraud and bribery.
Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden defended the so-called VIP lanes — reserved for referrals from lawmakers and senior officials — and insisted there had been “no favors or special treatment” for government cronies.
“With any large allocation of government funds for large-scale procurement, there are going to be issues that arise subsequently,” he told the BBC.
“You can see there is civil litigation happening, you can see there is a criminal investigation happening. So, if there is fraud, the government will crack down.”