Five million medical masks bought by the UK Government for £45million are missing, it has been revealed.
The specialist FFP3 masks, which are fitted with plastic respirators, were meant to have been flown into Birmingham international airport by June, having been ordered by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
But a legal battle has now been launched between the UK medical company contracted to obtain the masks and its British Virgin Island-based supplier.
The specialist ‘3M’ masks were due to be delivered in mid-May, but Purple Surgical say they are yet to arrive, despite repeated attempts to chase the supplier.
Representatives for the UK firm told MailOnline it is the first time in the company’s 110 year history that it had come up against alleged fraud of this kind.
The company has promised to supply the masks or pay the money back to the Government, while taking legal action against Win Billion – who will reportedly contest the allegations.
The specialist FFP3 masks, which are fitted with plastic respirators, were meant to have been flown into Birmingham international airport by June, having been ordered by the Department of Health and Social Care. Pictured: A library image of FFP3 face masks being made
Purple Surgical were awarded a £45million contract to supply the ‘3M’ Aura 9332+ FFP3 masks, which are medical-grade respirator masks, to the DHSC.
The firm then signed a £21million agreement with Win Billion for the masks, the Guardian reports.
But legal papers, seen by the Guardian, reportedly show there were early delays involving Win Billions.
Further delays prompted Purple Surgical’s chief executive, Robert Sharpe, to contact Win Billion and demand more information, the paper adds.
Further delays prompted Purple Surgical’s chief executive, Robert Sharpe (pictured), to contact Win Billion and demand more information, the paper adds.
But after yet more delays, and a claim by Win Billion that the masks would be delivered to Birmingham Airport in June, Purple Surgical launched legal action in August.
The legal action is for fraud against Win Billion and its CEO Ric Yun Fai Wu, claiming non-delivery of the masks.
They are also launching legal action against a Californian lawyer, Jody Wong, who was hired to transfer the money between the two companies as an escrow agent, the company says.
Mr Wong denied any wrongdoing to the Guardian and said Purple Surgical were ‘waiting for the goods’. He added that he had not received a fee for his role.
Meanwhile, lawyers for Win Billion and Ric Wu have filed a motion for Purple Surgical’s case to be dismissed, and say the allegations will be denied should the case go ahead, the Guardian reports.
In a statement, sent to MailOnline, a spokesperson for Purple Surgical said: ‘We are deeply distressed by the suspected fraud that has been committed against Purple Surgical and by extension, the NHS.
‘However we are proud to have been able to fulfil over 95 per cent of our PPE contracts with the DHSC despite the global Covid crisis, during which there has been unprecedented global demand for extraordinary volumes of products.
‘Throughout our 110 year history we have provided surgical equipment and devices to the UK and international healthcare industry and have dealt with many suppliers. Never have we experienced fraud.
The DHSC also says it has obtained 4.4 billion PPE items with a further 32 billion items ordered ‘to provide a continuous supply to the frontline over the coming months’. Pictured: Boris Johnson speaking to a face-masked medic in July
‘We are committed to ensuring that the impact on the health service is minimised.
‘We remain highly confident we can fulfil the order, but if that is not possible we will refund the DHSC for the full value of the contract.’
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the DHSC said in a statement to MailOnline: ‘We have been working tirelessly to deliver PPE to protect our health and social care staff throughout the pandemic, and proper due diligence is carried out for all government contracts and we take these checks extremely seriously.
‘We cannot comment directly on individual allegations of fraud, but we take all allegations seriously and explore every available option to bring those who commit fraud to account.’
A spokesperson added that the UK Government has a ‘resilient supply’ of FFP3 masks, including those manufactured in the UK.
The DHSC also says it has obtained 4.4 billion PPE items with a further 32 billion items ordered ‘to provide a continuous supply to the frontline over the coming months’.