Owner of luxury dog food company, 47, ‘pocketed millions in taxpayers’ cash’ by brokering deals with UK Government for PPE on behalf of Chinese firm
- Zoe Ley, 47, from London, was middleman for Chinese firm Worldlink Resource
- Firm secured two Government contracts for PPE worth £258million last spring
- Senior Worldlink official told the BBC she took home ’30 per cent of the profits’
- Panorama’s ‘Cashing in on Covid’ airs tonight on BBC One at 7.30pm
A British businesswoman pocketed millions of taxpayers’ cash during the pandemic by brokering deals for PPE on behalf of a Chinese firm, it was claimed today.
According to a BBC Panorama documentary which airs tonight, Ms Ley acted as a middleman between Worldlink and the Department of Health and Social Care.
The former investment banker, who runs a luxury dog food business, brokered the deals through a separate company called Life Partners, which she set up last May.
One contract for protective gowns, shared with another company, was worth £80m while the other was for £178m worth of goggles.
Details of the deals were only published last week following inquiries from Panorama, despite assurances from No10 that all contracts had been published.
On its website, Worldlink boasts: ‘Through our UK representative Life Partners, Worldlink successfully helped the Department of Health and Social Care with sourcing critical supplies of PPE.’
A senior official at the firm said Ms Ley took home ’30 per cent of the profits’ for acting as a ‘bridge’ to the UK Government.
Panorama’s documentary ‘Cashing in on Covid’ airs tonight on BBC One at 7.30pm.
Zoe Ley, 47, from Marylebone in London, pocketed millions of taxpayers’ cash during the pandemic by brokering deals for PPE on behalf of a Chinese firm, it was claimed today
One contract for protective gowns, shared with another company, was worth £80m while the other was for £178m worth of goggles (file image)
It is not clear how much profit Worldlink made on the combined deals but Ms Ley’s lawyers deny her commission was as much as 30 per cent.
The BBC said it was ‘unlikely that Ms Ley’s share would have been less than a seven-figure sum’.
Company House records show Ms Ley set up Life Partners on May 1 last year, when the UK was still in the midst of the first wave of Covid.
At that time, officials were scrambling to source PPE after mass shortages left frontline workers having to make their own.
A description of the business says it ‘specialises in the sale of other particular products’.
Ms Ley’s solicitors say it was someone in the Cabinet Office’s Covid team who reached out to her to help with PPE, something the Government denies.
The latest revelation will fuel allegations of ‘cronyism’ over Number 10’s handling of Covid contracts.
Last November saw the National Audit Office (NAO), the public spending watchdog, publish a scathing report which criticised the way normal standards of transparency had been set aside.
It found companies recommended by MPs, peers and ministerial offices were given priority amid the initial scramble for PPE supplies.
Last month it was revealed just one in 100 Government Covid-19 contracts worth an eye-watering £17.3billion was awarded by competitive tender – raising more questions about whether the taxpayer has been getting value for money during the pandemic.
Companies with no experience of supplying masks, gloves and aprons won lucrative Government deals in the ‘shambolic’ scramble for contracts – with critics calling it the ‘Wild West’.
The Institute for Government (IfG) said it has found ‘little evidence’ of competition for deals handed out between March and last July at the height of the scramble for PPE for the NHS.
The IFG said there was clear evidence that when firms battled for a contract it cost the Government less, shaving 2.5 per cent off the deal on average.
Matt Hancock broke the law by failing to reveal coronavirus PPE contracts worth billions of pounds’, High Court rules
Matt Hancock unlawfully failed to publish details of billions of pounds’ worth of coronavirus-related contracts, the High Court ruled last month.
The Good Law Project took legal action against the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) for its ‘wholesale failure’ to disclose details of contracts agreed during the Covid-19 pandemic.
The Government is required by law to publish a ‘contract award notice’ within 30 days of the award of any contracts for public goods or services worth more than £120,000.
At a hearing in early February, the Good Law Project and three MPs – Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas and Liberal Democrat Layla Moran – argued there had been a ‘dismal’ failure by the DHSC to comply with the obligation.
They also claimed the Government was breaching its own transparency policy, which requires the publication of details of public contracts worth more than £10,000.
In his ruling, Mr Justice Chamberlain said: ‘There is now no dispute that, in a substantial number of cases, the Secretary of State breached his legal obligation to publish contract award notices within 30 days of the award of contracts.
‘There is also no dispute that the Secretary of State failed to publish redacted contracts in accordance with the transparency policy.’
The judge said that the obligations to publish details of such contracts ‘serve a vital public function and that function was no less important during a pandemic’.
He added: ‘The Secretary of State spent vast quantities of public money on pandemic-related procurements during 2020.
‘The public were entitled see who this money was going to, what it was being spent on and how the relevant contracts were awarded.
‘This was important not only so that competitors of those awarded contracts could understand whether the obligations … had been breached, but also so that oversight bodies such as the National Audit Office, as well as Parliament and the public, could scrutinise and ask questions about this expenditure.’
Mr Justice Chamberlain said the situation the DHSC faced in the first months of the pandemic was ‘unprecedented’, when ‘large quantities of goods and services had to be procured in very short timescales’.
The judge said it was ‘understandable that attention was focused on procuring what was thought necessary to save lives’.
But he added that the DHSC’s ‘historic failure’ to comply with the obligations to publish contracts because of the difficulties caused by the pandemic was ‘an excuse, not a justification’.