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Latest 02 September 2021

Why might the anti-corruption tsar be smearing us?

“Unimaginable resources” were thrown at Test and Trace. Yet it “cannot point to a measurable difference to the progress of the pandemic”. That’s what the Conservative-majority Public Accounts Committee found. There was a measurable difference, though, for the owners of the biggest of the pandemic contract winners, Innova. The LA Times reported that they flashed “an Innova bank statement with a $175-million balance as proof of funds”.  They also went on “a corporate and personal luxury buying spree”, including several Gulfstream jets and luxury houses.

Things are no better when one turns to PPE procurement. The Government’s own Counter Fraud Function         “assessed a high risk of fraud in the procurement of PPE”. 

You might think this is cause for the Government’s Anti-Corruption Champion, John Penrose MP, to take a look. His role, after all, is to “scrutinise and challenge the performance of departments and agencies”. And the sums involved are no laughing matter. Together, the Test and Trace and PPE programmes cost a staggering £50bn – about the size of the whole annual defence budget.

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But rather than chasing corruption, he seems to spend his time besmirching those who do. A follower of Good Law Project has shared with us an extraordinary letter he received from John Penrose, which contains a number of out-and-out falsehoods. 

The letter says: 

  • “Since the start of the pandemic [Good Law Project] have brought scores of legal cases against the Government and, so far, they’ve failed to make almost all of them stand up in court.” 

That’s just not true. At the time of writing, we have had only two substantive court decisions and have won both of them. And, of the 14 cases we have issued since the start of 2020, the Court has granted permission in 11 at the first time of asking. Official statistics (beginning in 2010) show that this happens in only 17% of all judicial reviews. Good Law Project’s success rate is 78%.

It also says:

  • “In both cases, the judge said that their broader allegations of dishonesty or actual corruption (i.e. anything more than failing to follow the bureaucratic process precisely enough) weren’t proven.”

That is also false. In none of the decided cases did we allege dishonesty or corruption. So, his statement that judges dismissed our allegations of dishonesty or actual corruption is a pure and false figment of his imagination.

Is Penrose indifferent to the truth of what he says? Or is our notional anti-corruption champion telling out-and-out lies to try and smear those doing the job he should be doing?

Penrose goes on to say:

“I should probably add that a couple of their cases are against appointments at NHS Test & Trace, where my wife worked as a senior volunteer.”

That’s not entirely frank either. 

The truth is that the person in charge of the programme that delivered unimaginable wealth to Innova’s owners but made no measurable difference to the progress of the pandemic is Baroness Dido Harding. And John Penrose is her husband. Yep, you read it right: he’s charged with scrutinising whether there was corruption in the programme headed up by his own wife. It’s laughable – but it’s no laughing matter.

In fact, Good Law Project is bringing a judicial review – for which a court has granted us permission – of the decision to put Harding to lead the £37bn Test and Trace fiasco. 

What does all of this add up to? 

We wouldn’t normally respond to baseless slurs from a Parliamentarian. But what makes Penrose’s letter significant is that the anti-corruption champion has a responsibility to “engage with external stakeholders, including… civil society organisations”.

There is likely to be – the Government itself has acknowledged – fraud in pandemic procurement. And despite being a small not-for-profit without the powers of a law enforcement agency, Good Law Project has uncovered two highly suspicious cases involving contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds: one involving Priti Patel and another involving vast contracts awarded to a jeweller based in Florida.

Penrose’s letter tells the truth about his role. He’s not an anti-corruption champion – he’s a man speaking falsehoods to try and stop those working to uncover it.

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