Conservative peer Michelle Mone and her children secretly received £29m originating from the profits of a PPE business that was awarded large Government contracts after she recommended it to ministers, according to an investigation by the Guardian.
PPE Medpro won Government contracts worth £203m during the Covid-19 pandemic after Lady Mone helped the company secure a place in a “VIP lane” the Government used to prioritise companies that had political connections.
Tens of millions of pounds of PPE Medpro’s profits were later transferred to a secret offshore trust of which Mone and her adult children were the beneficiaries, according to documents seen by the Guardian.
The documents state that Mone’s husband, Doug Barrowman, received at least £65m in PPE Medpro profits, and transferred £29m to an offshore trust that, bank records indicate, benefitted his wife and her adult children.
A lawyer for Barrowman and PPE Medpro said an ongoing investigation restricted what his clients were able to say in response to the allegations.
He told the Guardian: “For the time being we are also instructed to say that there is much inaccuracy in the portrayal of the alleged ”facts” and a number of them are completely wrong.”
But who is the Glasgow-born businesswoman nicknamed the “First Lady of lingerie”?
Early life and first marriage to Michael Mone
After the death of her brother aged eight, and her father’s cancer and subsequent paralysis, Mone left school at age 15 with no qualifications to pursue a modelling career.
At age 17, she met her future husband, entrepreneur Michael Mone, and by 18 years old, she was pregnant with their first child.
The couple had three children. On December27, 2011, lawyers announced the couple’s formal separation after 20 years of marriage.
Push-up bras and tax avoidance: Entry into business career
Mone’s first foray into the world of business was a marketing job with the Labatt brewing company.
Within two years, she had become its head of marketing in Scotland, but was then made redundant, prompting her to set up her own business.
She has since admitted that she lied to get the job by making up qualifications on her CV.
In November 1996 she founded MJM International with her then-husband Michael, using a redundancy payout from Labatt.
Three years later, Mone launched the Ultimo lingerie brand at Selfridges. She came up with the idea for the Ultimo bra, the brand’s first product, when she was wearing an uncomfortable push-up bra one day and believed she could create a more comfortable version.
Mone has claimed that an Ultimo bra was worn by Julia Roberts in the Hollywood film Erin Brockovich but this has since been denied by the film’s creators.
After initial success, 2014 saw the first signs of Mone running into trouble.
In that year, a former operations director for MJM won a claim for unfair dismissal from her company after discovering that Mone had authorised electronic bugging of his office.
The following year, Mone also threatened to sue her critics when it was revealed MJM International had paid a substantial sum of money into a controversial tax-avoidance scheme, criticised by Chancellor George Osborne as “morally repugnant”, and later made illegal.
Diet pills and cryptocurrency
In 2006, MJM bought half of TrimSecrets, a company selling weight-loss pills developed by Scottish-based Dutch naturopath Jan de Vries.
In an interview with The Guardian in 2010, Mone claimed that exercise and reduced caloric intake had no effect on her weight, and rather credited TrimSecrets pills with her weight loss.
In the same interview, Mone also claimed the products had been tested in clinical trials but, when questioned further, it transpired that 63 users had completed a questionnaire from which she was unable to produce results.
Mone’s business career took a further hit in 2018, when she launched a cryptocurrency with her partner Doug Barrowman called Equi. She claimed it aimed to raise $800m which would be used to fund startup companies. Calling herself “one of the biggest experts in cryptocurrency and Blockchain”, she also touted Equi as the “blockchain of Britain”.
The company recruited 1,000 people to promote the cryptocurrency through social media, but they only raised £1,600. By August 2018, The Sunday Times reported that the project had “flopped” and all investors had been refunded. The Financial Times reported that it had “ended in a fiasco that exposes the total absence of oversight in the ICO market”.
‘Waste of a white man’s skin’: racism allegation
In December 2021, Mone was accused of sending a racist text message to a man of Indian heritage after the two were involved in a fatal yacht collision in Monaco in 2019.
Richard Lynton-Jones, a wealth manager, claimed that Mone had called him a “waste of a white man’s skin” over Whatsapp.
A spokesperson for Mone said she was not racist because “Baroness Mone and her husband have built over 15 schools in Africa in the past three years”. This was followed by a message from her lawyers, who said that Mone could not access her messages and had no “detailed memory of them”.
The allegations of racism were referred to the House of Lords Commissioner for Standards, but commissioners did not investigate the matter as Mone’s comments were said in a personal capacity and not in her capacity as a member of the House of Lords.
In January 2022, the Metropolitan Police announced they were investigating the incident.
‘Layabout Lady of Mayfair’: poor attendance in the House of Lords
In her maiden speech in the House of Lords, Mone stated, “I look forward to playing a full and active role in your lordships’ house.”
However, The Times reported in 2018 that, in the previous year, Mone had only attended the House of Lords on 12 per cent of the days in which it was sitting, missing important debates, including on the Brexit bill.
Her poor attendance led MSP Rona Mackay to label her the “Layabout Lady of Mayfair” and businessman Douglas Anderson, who had criticised her original appointment, called for her to resign.
By January 2022, Mone had made only five speeches in the House of Lords and asked 22 written questions.