A Spanish businessman was paid more than $28m (£21m) as part of a “lucrative” deal by a Florida company to supply personal protective equipment (PPE) to the UK government, US court documents reveal.
Gabriel Gonzalez Andersson was hired by Miami-based Saiger to help procure the goods in March this year – at the height of the coronavirus pandemic – according to legal documents.
Saiger has been handed contracts totalling nearly £300m to supply PPE and hand sanitiser during the pandemic, according to government procurement database Tussell.
The arrangement is subject to a separate legal challenge in the UK by campaigners who say Saiger is a jewellery company with no experience of supplying PPE and that the deals were offered without any competitive tendering process.
Details emerged in court papers related to a dispute between Saiger and Mr Andersson.
The document submitted to a Florida court says that Michael Saiger set up the business earlier this year to help governments obtain bulk orders of PPE in response to the coronavirus crisis.
They say that at the time, Mr Saiger had “significant experience in working with manufacturers and distributors in China” and that based on this experience he was “able to secure a number of lucrative contracts with the government of the United Kingdom”.
Saiger then hired Mr Andersson to be involved in “procurement, logistics, due diligence, product sourcing and quality control” of the PPE equipment.
The Spanish businessman “did very well under this arrangement” and was paid $28m, lawyers for Saiger say.
But Saiger alleges that after a similar arrangement in June to supply gloves and gowns, for which Mr Andersson would have been paid $21m (£16m), he “stopped performing any of the required services”.
The Florida company was left to “scramble” to complete the work, resulting in “business interruptions that delayed the delivery of PPE to healthcare providers and first responders in the United Kingdon during the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Mr Andersson denies the allegations.
Two campaigning organisations, the Good Law Project and Everydoctor, claim the government overpaid for goods supplied under the contracts.
Jolyon Maugham QC, director of the Good Law Project, said: “At last we can all see – in simple black and white – the staggering sums flowing from public coffers to private pockets.
“Who could blame individuals for joining the queue if government is handing out free money?
“But you and I – and our children – are going to have to pay higher taxes because government’s incompetence handed fortunes big enough to last generations to obscure foreign businessmen.”
The DHSC said: “We have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE, delivering more than 4.9 billion items to the frontline so far.
“Almost 32 billion items have been ordered to provide a continuous supply, which will meet the future needs of health and social care staff.
“Proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts and we take these checks extremely seriously.”
Saiger told Sky News in a statement: “We have an extensive network of manufacturing and distribution contacts in Asia and we are an agile, nimble firm able to move rapidly.
“These attributes mean that few other suppliers can match us on speed, quality or value to the taxpayer. At the height of the pandemic, and at a time when the NHS was in need of high-quality PPE that met the required safety standards, we delivered for Britain, on time and at value.
“At no time have we ever used any ‘middlemen”.