Mark Thatcher link in complaint to DTI

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The Independent Online
A GOVERNMENT inquiry into the loss of an important export order was demanded by Fisons after the pharmaceuticals group learned that an associate of Mark Thatcher, son of the then prime minister, might have intervened on behalf of a rival bidder.

Fisons claimed to have 'firm evidence' to demonstrate that the Kenyan government changed its mind on the pounds 13m contract because the Kenyans believed a business associate of Mr Thatcher was helping Philip Harris, a competitor.

Fisons claimed that it first won the contract, to supply the Moi University with laboratory equipment, in January 1989. But in May that year it was astounded when the decision was reversed and the contract awarded to Philip Harris.

In the end, the contract, which was due to be part-financed by the British government under an aid programme, was not awarded to either party.

A Fisons executive, writing to Bill Cash, the Conservative MP for Stafford, said: 'We have firm evidence to demonstrate that senior government and university officials believed that the change of nomination arose from the involvement of a new agent who is an associate of Mark Thatcher.'

Mr Thatcher, whose secretive business career was the subject of a recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme, is said to be worth between pounds 20m and pounds 40m, with homes in Dallas, Texas; London; and Lausanne, Switzerland.

In May 1989, Cedric Scroggs, who worked on the project for Fisons and who is now its chief executive, wrote to the Department of Trade and Industry. 'We wish to register our strongest protest and request an urgent meeting with you to discuss the matter,' he said. 'We believe that the sudden and unexpected change and the circumstances surrounding it require Her Majesty's Government's very careful attention and may call for a 'full inquiry'.'

Kenyan newspapers reported in June 1989 that Mr Thatcher visited Kenya at the invitation of a local businessman, Keitan Somaia. The news reports said that his visit was in connection with a car rally that Mr Somaia was organising.

Relations between Fisons and government ministers and officials became heated, with the company arguing that although the university officials preferred their equipment and their tender, they were being frustrated by the wishes of some Kenyan government officials who believed that the Philip Harris bid had the blessing of the British government.

In August 1990, Mr Scroggs wrote to Baroness Chalker, the Overseas Development Minister, saying: 'The Philip Harris bid should be disqualified. This is the clear view that we have been given by our legal advisers who believe that we could make a successful application for a judicial review.'

He added pointedly: 'In view of the protracted background to this project for which we disclaim any responsibility, it gives me no pleasure to lay this further problem before you. It became clear at the meeting yesterday that your brief was incomplete in certain very important respects.'

David Richardson, a Fisons executive involved with the project, also wrote to Mr Cash, claiming that the DTI had remained unenthusiastic about the project until Mr Thatcher's visit to Kenya.

Eventually, Fisons dropped the matter and decided to share any possible work with Philip Harris. However, the contract has yet to be awarded and students at the university are having to do without the equipment.

David Macey, Philip Harris's managing director, said he had met Mr Thatcher on two or three occasions, but denied that either he or his group had a business relationship with him. 'What people want to make of our passing association is just sheer speculation,' he said.

Baroness Chalker asked for an analysis of the rival bids from a management consultancy based in Cambridge. The consultants came down in favour of Philip Harris but their judgement was questioned by Fisons. After some heated exchanges between Baroness Chalker and Fisons' Mr Scroggs, this decision was also rescinded.

(Photograph omitted)