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Second company run by Exclusive Brethren members scoops $100 million in COVID contracts

The contract included the supply of rapid antigen tests.

The contract included the supply of rapid antigen tests. Photo: Getty

A second company linked to the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church – a fundamentalist Christian sect known as the Exclusive Brethren – won more than $100 million in federal government contracts to supply Covid tests, The New Daily can reveal.

Dubbed an “extremist cult” by former PM Kevin Rudd, the group has condemned homosexuality, requires women congregants to wear head coverings and has been accused in courts of forbidding contact with family members who choose to leave.

Exclusive Brethren rebranded in 2012 to become the Plymouth Brethren Christian Church but it is perhaps better known by the former name which distinguishes members from “open brethren”; the split dates back to the 19th Century.

Senior church figures, including a son of global leader or “elect vessel” Bruce Hales, were behind a company awarded $26 million by the federal government to supply Covid tests, TND revealed last week.

It can now be revealed a second company run by a church member and with direct links to Mr Hales’s sons’ was awarded another $105 million in contracts to supply the government with tests and equipment during the pandemic.

Family business

Westlab Pty Ltd is listed as the winning bidder on six tenders with the Department of Health between August 2020 and August 2022 worth a combined $106 million.

The CEO of the Ballarat company, Peter Grace, is a member of the Exclusive Brethren who registered a New Zealand branch of the business via a church-owned company.

But a now-deleted page on Westlab’s website showcasing its work supplying rapid antigen tests to the government links it to members of the family at the very top of the Exclusive Brethren.

Unmasked

Westlab said another company, Sante Group, arranged to supply tests to the government but says they worked together to “help the Australian Government departments deliver their promise to Australian citizens”.

Sante Group’s website describes a partnership with the same words. It describes as a global corporation and names a UK arm in which two sons of the Exclusive Brethren’s leader Bruce Hales,  Gareth and Charles, are significant shareholders.

A north-west Sydney address used by a company directed by their brother, Dean, is on a form registering the website’s privacy policy with European regulators.

Sante Global LLP received $1 billion in contracts for supplying medical equipment to the UK government during the pandemic, which secured the brothers’ spot on a national newspaper’s Covid rich list.

UK MP Nick Smith has called for an inquiry into Covid contracts and  companies he said were “modern day pirates”.

“We know about a network of companies with connections to Conservative lobbyists, one of which is Sante Global,” he said in December in the House of Commons.

“Reports suggest that it has accounted for its profits through different companies from those known to the Department, so it is impossible to see how much money it has made.”

Also in the UK, a Conservative peer and former lingerie entrepreneur, Baroness Michelle Mone, vowed to clear her name after a newspaper alleged she profited from $350 million in pandemic contracts won by a firm set up by her tax accountant husband.

Systemic breaches

One $33 million contract won by Westlab to deliver rapid antigen tests was sourced from a Chinese manufacturer since blacklisted by the United Kingdom’s Department of Health after an audit uncovered alleged breaches of local labour laws.

The UK government tore up a contract for 60 million RATs imported from Xiamen Boson Biotech after it found “professional misconduct” and “repeated and systemic” breaches, the country’s High Court heard in January, according to The Times.

The UK government is being sued for breach of a $170 million contract by church-linked companies including Sante Global, which dispute the findings of the audits.

The Exclusive Brethren did not answer questions about the Hales brothers’ stakes in Sante Global, or the hundreds of millions in contracts awarded to companies with links to the church in the UK and Australia.

No comment

“We don’t operate any businesses,” a church spokesman said.

“As a Christian church which follows the teachings of the Holy Bible, we are guided by our values of love, care and compassion. These are at our centre.”

The church encourages its global network of 50,000 followers to start businesses and to shop at church-owned companies; it boasts of combined revenue in the billions.

The church’s main charity, the National Assistance Fund, reported $54 million in gross income for 2021, an increase from $31 million two years before.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health did not say when asked if it knew about UK government concerns about the Chinese manufacturer that supplied Westlab but said products were checked for safety standards.

“The TGA focuses on product safety and performance,” the spokeswoman said.

Westlab’s director did not respond to requests for comment.

Topics: COVID-19
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