Innova Their Heads?
Coronavirus, Issue 1536
A lateral flow Covid test, held by Brigadier Joe Fossey, who led the testing pilot in Liverpool
THE company with the largest single Covid-related contract to date looks to be among the most questionable of the many previously unheard-of recipients of pandemic deals. US company Innova Medical Group Inc has contracts worth £496m and £138m for the “lateral flow” tests piloted in Liverpool and set to roll out under Operation Moonshot, plus student, care home and other testing programmes.

Innova was set up in March by an obscure Hong Kong and LA-based investment outfit, Pasaca Capital Inc, and is run from Pasadena, California. Both Pasaca and Innova are incorporated in Las Vegas, Nevada. The stand-out attractions of this state are that it affords most personal liability protection for directors over corporate wrongdoing and prevents creditors pursuing companies’ assets.

Syphoned fees into their private trust
This might appeal to Pasaca’s founder Charles (or Chunhua) Huang, whose online biography boasts of his having “played a key role in the strategic alliance between China’s Brilliance Group and MG Rover Group in the UK in 2002”. Alas, there was no “alliance” in that sorry affair: the potential tie-up was one of several ill-starred schemes from which the “Phoenix Four”, who bought the car company in 2000 and were subsequently banned from being directors, syphoned fees into their private trust (£7.7m in this case).

When government inspectors took a look in 2009, the Brilliance Group and Huang didn’t emerge well. With payments from China failing to arrive, board minutes showed that one of the Phoenix Four “had requested the British Embassy [in Beijing] to make enquiries on [MG Rover’s] behalf as to the identity and whereabouts of [Brilliance directors] Yang Rong [chairman], Brian Sun and Charles Huang”. A diplomat had “reported back that Mr Yang appeared to have fled to the United States of America where he was expected to stay… [and] that Brilliance as a group of companies had never had any intention of building motor vehicles with the company”. Huang was Brilliance’s finance director – just the man to scoop £600m of life-or-death contracts now.

Unsuccessful attempt to sell LightCleanse
Innova, which distributes tests made in Fujian province, China, has teamed up with a small company in Wellingborough, Northants, called Disruptive Nanotechnology Ltd. The firm rebranded itself “Tried & Tested” – but without much justification. What little activity can be seen since it set up in 2015 is an unsuccessful attempt to sell LightCleanse, a technology coating surfaces in titanium dioxide that reacts with light to produce oxidants to clean the surface.

Health concerns seem to have scuppered it. On latest figures (to December 2018) the firm was technically insolvent, with debts exceeding assets by a couple of thousand pounds. It is run by directors Kim Thonger and Charles Palmer, whose careers have taken in shoe retail and property respectively.

More top stories in the latest issue:

The $500m-plus profits made by the hedge fund co-founded by Rishi Sunak from shares in US Covid vaccine company Moderna prompt a few questions.

The social media platform supposedly set up to support free speech has been banning users left, far-right and centre.

The government finally apologised for the catalogue of blunders that caused baby Elizabeth Dixon’s catastrophic brain damage and needless death

The National Audit Office report on Covid spending, which found £10bn extra was spent on PPE, will have been no surprise to Eye readers.

The Isolation Assurance Service appears to have failed to control the virus at the border by ensuring self-isolation by international travellers.

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Next issue on sale: 19th January 2021
Private Eye Issue 1536
In This Issue
Topshops to be shut 24/7... Drama at Red Riding Hood Granny Cottage… Can Turkey Pardon Himself?… Strict new bullying guidelines for ministers … Furious man furious about Christmas … Conspiracy Update: Vaccine Special… Sir Roy Strong’s Diary, as told to Craig Brown

Amazon Bungle
Literary Review reads the works of Jeff Bezos

Gag Reflex
Staggering level of secrecy orders made over HS2

Pandemic Update
MD on the UK’s balancing act

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19th January 2021
Private Eye Issue 1535