Spending watchdog launches PPE probe after Spanish middleman was paid £21m

Government under pressure over lack of transparency during pandemic response

Nurses don PPE before treating a possible Covid-19 positive patient.
(Image credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The UK’s spending watchdog has launched an investigation after a Spanish businessman was paid £22m in taxpayer’s money for his role in procuring PPE for frontline NHS staff.

An “urgent investigation” into the contract has been opened by the National Audit Office (NAO) after Business Secretary Alok Sharma had insisted that the proper “checks were done”, the Daily Mail reports.

Gabriel Gonzalez Andersson was hired by Florida-based jewellery designer Michael Saiger, who in the early days of the pandemic began supplying protective gloves and gowns to the NHS.

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Andersson worked on “procurement, logistics, due diligence, product sourcing and quality control” for Saiger’s company, working as a “go-between” on deals for Saiger to provide PPE for the government, the BBC reports.

“Andersson was paid more than $28m (£21m) for his work on two government contracts”, and would have been in line for a further $20m (£15m) in consulting fees after Saiger signed “three more agreements to supply the NHS with millions of gloves and surgical gowns” in June, the broadcaster adds.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has published contracts with Saiger’s company totalling more than £200m, however, details of the middleman’s payments only became public due to an ongoing US legal dispute between Saiger and Andersson.

The NAO investigation comes just a day after it was revealed that ministers had set up a secret VIP channel for government contracts during the pandemic, through which billions of pounds of money was paid out.

Suppliers with links to politicians were ten times more likely to be awarded roles through the fast-track scheme than those who applied through the DHSC, the watchdog said.

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Joe Evans is the world news editor at TheWeek.co.uk. He joined the team in 2019 and held roles including deputy news editor and acting news editor before moving into his current position in early 2021. He is a regular panellist on The Week Unwrapped podcast, discussing politics and foreign affairs. 

Before joining The Week, he worked as a freelance journalist covering the UK and Ireland for German newspapers and magazines. A series of features on Brexit and the Irish border got him nominated for the Hostwriter Prize in 2019. Prior to settling down in London, he lived and worked in Cambodia, where he ran communications for a non-governmental organisation and worked as a journalist covering Southeast Asia. He has a master’s degree in journalism from City, University of London, and before that studied English Literature at the University of Manchester.