Legal action is being taken against the government over another controversial PPE contract. At the heart of the case is a company that denies it had a Tory donor lobby for its multimillion PPE deal, despite him claiming he was a consultant for the firm.
The Good Law Project has also stated that it holds documents linking the home secretary Priti Patel and Boris Johnson’s advisor Munira Mirza to contracts awarded to Pharmaceutical Direct Ltd (PDL).
Questions have also been raised surrounding former Conservative candidate and donor Samir Jassal’s involvement in securing the contract after he was named on official Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) documents. PDL has told us that Jassal was not employed by PDL, but he says he was a consultant for the firm.
Furthermore, the DHSC is accused of breaching UK law by not publishing the details of the £102.6m PPE contract which was given to PDL without competition. This has come up in multiple legal cases regarding the government’s unlawful coronavirus (Covid-19) contracts.
Documents claim that Priti Patel helped secure the deal
The Good Law Project has stated that Mirza and Patel, intervened to help two ‘middlemen’ secure the contracts for PDL:
We hold documents showing or suggesting that:
Both Boris Johnson’s controversial adviser Munira Mirza and the Home Secretary Priti Patel intervened to help middlemen win two enormous contracts for PDL;
The first middleman was Samir Jassal. He is a Conservative councillor who has been photographed with Boris Johnson, Theresa May, David Cameron, and has personal links to Priti Patel, and a string of other high profile Conservative figures;
The second middleman was Surbjit Shergill. A company he owned went from £200 in value to almost £10m in value in the year of the pandemic. Documents leaked to Good Law Project suggest he billed PDL over £16m for his services;
The £28.8m contract was won shortly after a direct intervention by Priti Patel – and was above the average market price.
Despite The Good Law Projects statement, PDL claim that Jassal was not employed by the company and deny that lobbying for contracts took place.
PDL claims Jassal wasn’t an employee
After reports cited Jassal as the named representative on DHSC documents, PDL told The Canary that it did use a contractor to secure the multimillion pound contract, but it wasn’t Jassal.
PDL’s director Bemal Patel stated:
We are aware of media reports published this week which contain a material inaccuracy stating that the contact name appearing on the relevant contract (which was redacted in the published version) is Mr Samir Jassal. This is incorrect.
Bemal Patel insisted that Jassal is not employed by PDL:
As is not uncommon, PDL engaged a contractor to deal with that process (getting the contract) on its behalf. That contractor is not Mr Jassal. For the avoidance of doubt, Mr Jassal wasn’t employed by PDL.
But the Tory donor says he was a ‘consultant’ for the firm
But in an interview with the BBC, Jassal claimed that he was a consultant for the firm.
The allegations come under the backdrop of several legal cases against the UK government for breaking transparency laws under public contract regulations.
Now, the Good Law Project has stated it will get answers as it kicks off legal action again the DHSC in a case that specifically names Jassal.
Director of the Good Law Project Jolyon Maugham stated:
We already knew that Boris Johnson had misled Parliament when he insisted in February 2021 that all COVID contracts were now “on the record”. Now we’ve uncovered a new contract that makes further nonsense of that claim.
The Good Law Project has been vocal about its concerns about Jassal’s involvement in the deal:
Samir Jassal is a well-connected figure within the Conservative Party. A two-time Conservative Party parliamentary candidate and former councillor, he has met Boris Johnson on at least three occasions, with the last meeting held in October 2020.
“Mr Jassal is not a director or shareholder of PDL”
While the pre-action letter claims that Jassal is not a director or shareholder of PDL, it claims that he has close links to prime minister Boris Johnson and home secretary Priti Patel.
According to The Good Law Project:
- Jassal is not a director or shareholder of PDL. Nor is he referred to on PDL’s website.
- Open source research indicates that Jassal: describes himself on LinkedIn as a ‘Healthcare & Pharmaceutical Partner’, but doesn’t say who he works for.
- He was previously a Conservative party counsellor and deputy leader of Gravesham Borough Council.
- Jassal was also the ‘BME policy director’ in Kent.
- Jassal stood for election as a Conservative MP twice, once in 2015 and in 2017, and was ‘supported by Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid.
- From 2014-2015 he worked as an advisor to Priti Patel and assistant to Zac Goldsmith’s campaign.
- His most recent meeting with Boris Johnson was in October 2020 but they have met on a ‘number of occasions’.
It’s not clear why Jassal was named on the documents, or whether this was an ‘error’ as reported in the press. We contacted the DHSC to ask why the documents were redacted and why Jassal’s name was published if he wasn’t the named contractor, but it failed to respond.
However, while the focus has been on Jassal’s alleged involvement in securing this contract, there has been little mention of PDL’s history of securing government PPE contracts.
It was the second PPE contract, racking up a total of £131.4 m
We spoke to the Good Law Project about this. It confirmed that there was a contract awarded to PDL in May 2020. This contract was also granted without competition:
This £102.6 million contract is not the only one handed to Pharmaceuticals Direct by the Department for Health and Social Care – the firm received an earlier PPE contract in May 2020, worth £28.8 million. Both deals were directly awarded to the firm without any competition.
This means that in 2020 alone PDL secured deals worth at least £131.4m. These contracts went unchallenged and undisclosed for months, breaking the government’s own public contracts law.
PDL turned over more than £50m
According to a statement released to The Canary, PDL made a profit of £1.3m in 2020 after tax and turned over more than £50m:
Together with its associated healthcare businesses, PDL is a substantial and well-established supplier to the healthcare sector. With a group annual turnover exceeding £50,000,000, the business is proud of its successful track record of procurement and supply to various medical organisations, including supplying NHS bodies.
However, the Good Law Project claims that the government has been in a state of “amnesia” when it comes to its legal obligations. Specifically, around its failure to publish PDL’s contract, it stated:
The more details that we uncover on PPE contracts, the more serious the questions that arise. In this case Government’s apparent amnesia when it comes to its legal obligations has prevented timely public scrutiny of a multi-million pound direct award to a Tory party member and donor.
Despite claims that Jassal was not the contractor who secured the multimillion pound deal, the Good Law Project continues with its case against the DHSC with Jassal at the front of its campaign. The case is just one of several the Good Law Project is pursuing to force the government to be transparent and accountable over its coronavirus contracts.
We contacted the DHSC and PDL who both declined to comment further about the legal action case. PDL is yet to reveal who they contracted to secure the multimillion pound deal.
Featured Image: Wikimedia Commons – EU2017EE Estonian Presidency
By Emma Guy
This post was originally published on The Canary.