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Latest 12 March 2024

The Tories bought £40m of useless PPE through a pub

Medicine Box hooked up with The Plough to land a massive contract. But now the company has dissolved there’s little chance the money wasted on useless coveralls will ever be recovered.

By Max Colbert

A company that hatched a PPE deal in the pub where David Cameron treated the Chinese premier Xi Jinping to a pint has been dissolved, Good Law Project can reveal, making it vanishingly unlikely the £40m wasted on useless coveralls will ever be recovered.

The Plough at Cadsden is a village pub which formed the backdrop to a key scene from the “golden era” of relations between Britain and China, when Cameron and Xi enjoyed fish and chips and ale in 2015.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (1st L) and British Prime Minister David Cameron (2nd L) talk with local people at a pub Imago / Alamy Stock Photo

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The pub was bought by the Chinese infrastructure investment company Sinofortone a year later, with the managing director, Yu “Peter” Zhang, taking over as landlord. As the first wave of the pandemic hit in 2020, Xinyu Tang – thought to be Zhang’s girlfriend  – started making use of contacts in China to source PPE.

Zhang became a director of Medicine Box on 23 April 2020, with the £40m deal signed two days later and funds passed on to The Plough to source the coveralls.

Every single one was deemed unsuitable for use in an NHS setting, but Medicine Box was unrepentant, telling The Citizens that The Plough “fulfilled the order by providing quality products on time”. A lawyer speaking on behalf of Medicine Box told Good Law Project that Peter Zhang became a director “specifically because” of his “contacts”.

“The other directors of Medicine Box were repeatedly assured by Peter Zhang that the PPE provided to the Department of Health and Social Care under the terms of the contract, complied with it,” the lawyer said. “These assurances included the provision of CE conformity certificates from recognised suppliers. It is understood the Department of Health and Social Care do not agree with Peter Zhang’s position on the conformity of the material supplied.”

This debacle is the latest in a long line of Sinofortone fiascos. A wave of agreements announced in 2015 – including a £100m stake in a Kent theme park, a £2bn investment in two biomass power plants and a £10bn deal for infrastructure in Scotland – all collapsed. An official involved in one of these deals said the company came “with a lot of ideas and hope and promises, and they were desperate to sign an agreement. No sooner had they got the TV and press out than they faded into the night.”

The Plough at Cadsden and DHSC did not respond to a request for comment. Sinofortone could not be reached for comment.

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