Aspen Medical Under Scrutiny

Medical supplier Aspen Medical has come under scrutiny in Australia, following a recent Four Corners investigation into its connections with the Liberal Party, as well as a corruption probe. ABC has also questioned a letter of commendation for Aspen written by federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, while the company was involved in negotiations with his own Department of Health for lucrative PPE deals.

Greg Hunt’s Letter

In a letter prepared and signed (under the government crest) in February 2020, Health Minister Greg Hunt heaped praise onto Aspen Medical. “A world-recognised, nationally awarded company…a trusted supplier of…health services to the Australian government,” he said.

The problem was that this letter was written while Aspen was negotiating with the government for a highly profitable PPE contract. Hunt’s letter was undated, and addressed ‘to whom it may concern’, meaning its use was easily left to the company.

Despite having no previous procurement experience at this scale, Aspen Medical did eventually win the taxpayer-funded contracts it was after. Secured without public tender, the deal was worth over $1.1 billion, and launched their pre-tax profits to over $420 million during the pandemic. In contrast, prior to COVID, Aspen was falling hard, with combined losses of over $7 million from 2018-19.

A spokesman for Hunt explained that the letter was “written to support Aspen Medical in tendering for work in the United States and is appropriate for Australian firms assisting in international activity.” The spokesman claimed the Health Minister had no involvement in “purchasing recommendations, assessments, approvals, contract negotiations or decisions.”

Aspen Medical was also found to have strong links to high-ranking Liberal politicians in the Four Corners investigation.

The Australian National Audit Office, while it did find “inconsistent due diligence checks of suppliers”, and insufficient record keeping, said Aspen’s “equipment was priced within appropriate range.”

But former Health Department Secretary Stephen Duckett was unimpressed. “We’ve got no idea, neither does he, in what context Aspen Medical would use this letter,” said Duckett. Calling the fact that the letter was written during talks ‘remarkable’, he went on, “So it is extraordinarily unusual and, in fact, dangerous for a minister — or in fact for a public servant — to actually have any contact, any engagement, and certainly to write a letter of this kind.” 

Aspen Medical has also enjoyed longstanding ties to the Liberal Party, most prominently through former Liberal Health Minister Michael Wooldridge.

Sri Lanka Money Laundering Probe

The company is also facing scrutiny overseas. In Sri Lanka, police have launched a money laundering investigation into Sabre Vision Holdings. In 2012, Aspen was hired to supply equipment and infrastructure for a new multimillion-dollar hospital on Sri Lanka’s southern coast.

But police started to become suspicious of money Aspen was paying to an account in the British Virgin Islands – a famous tax haven. Aspen, EN-Projects (a Dutch subcontractor of Aspen), and German company Juga Bau GmbH, collectively paid 4.3 million euros and US$537,000 to Sabre Vision Holdings.

Sabre Vision Holdings turned out to be owned by middleman Nimal Perera, who lied about owning the company, saying it belonged to a mysterious Italian businessman friend instead. In a statement responding to the ABC’s investigation, Aspen said it had not received “any requests from any government agency or court of law anywhere in the world.”

Cover photo by Alex Mecl on Unsplash.

Follow Maddie’s journalism on Twitter.

For early access to content like this, join our Free newsletter!