THE plot thickens in the mystery of the missing £600m or so paid to the interior design company, Unispace Global Ltd, that bagged a handful of major PPE contracts via the government’s VIP lane between April and June 2020.
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The last Eye reported how the accounts for the company that had contracted with the Department of Health and Social Care for gloves, overalls and masks showed no sign of the money in its 2020 accounts, while less than helpful government spending data did not give the legal entity to which vast amounts of taxpayers’ money had been handed over. It seemed the money must simply have been paid to another, presumably related, company. So which was it?
The health department has since responded to the Eye’s freedom of information request for the details to say that in fact all the payments on the contracts were made to Unispace Global Ltd. At which point it gets serious. Since the contracts were concluded and fulfilled entirely within 2020, and the payments also made within the year, the nine-figure amounts should have been included in the company’s turnover for the year. The accounts, however, give the turnover as £64m, with the only source of income mentioned that of interior design (which in previous years generated more than this).
Last March the Unispace group, set up in Australia by brothers Gareth and Charles Hales, was sold to Hong Kong investment company Pacific Alliance Group, founded and chaired by the man called “China’s private equity champion” by Fortune magazine, Weijian Shan. It was under this new ownership that the questionable Unispace Global Ltd accounts were filed.
The Eye has repeatedly asked Unispace to explain the missing hundreds of millions of pounds and has not been given any response. One chartered accountant consulted by the Eye described the omission as “inexplicable”; another said he could see “no legitimate reason”.
In a normal country the failure to account for £600m of public money, for whatever reason, would attract searching official questions. But in one dripping with financial foul play but little interest in tackling it, there are no guarantees the money will ever be found.