A company registered in Edinburgh has been linked to a firm in the Czech Republic embroiled in controversy over a government contract to deliver millions of Covid-19 tests for school children.
A former subsidiary of Tardigrad International LP has been asked to supply 3.6 million tests to Czech children ahead of them returning to school on 1 March, 2021.
Tardigrad International, now dissolved, registered as a Scottish Limited Partnership in 2016. It has been named in an official Czech government document after its former subsidiary Tardigrad International Consulting won a contract for Covid-19 tests.
It beat eight firms to win the Czech contract.
But Czech media reported it has no financial statements and a share capital of 1,000 CZK, equivalent to just £33.
There have been claims that Tardigrad has not met the correct requirements in order to supply nearly one million tests by 25 February.
Critics have also called into question who the real owners of the local firm are.
A Chinese firm, called Chironax, was also said to have made a more cheaper bid.
Tardigrad issued a statement, however, saying it has “already processed hundreds of orders and also works for Czech medical entities”. The company said it had filed tax returns.
Tardigrad IC is registered at Prague Airport but was unreachable for a comment.
The Czech ministry of interior signed a contract with Tardigrad last Friday. But the Czech PrimeMinister Andrej Babis has since stated he wanted to cancel the current procurement process for Covid-19 tests.
In an interview with Seznam Zpravy, Prime Minister Babis said: “I want the competition to be cancelled immediately.
“It was won by this non-transparent company, which has no statements and is strange and has no past – and yet it won the competition? It’s weird, and Chironax would supply the tests 40 million cheaper,” he added.
Tardigrad International was registered as a Scottish Limited Patnership at 12 South Bridge, Edinburgh. There are 797 companies registered at this address.
The Ferret visited the premises but only found MBE Edinburgh – a print shop with a mail box rental service.
Two men working there confirmed that hundreds of companies register at 12 South Bridge. However, they had not heard of Tardigard LP and claimed the company was not registered in their system.
One said: “We request documentation including passports of the people behind every company that want to register here. We have never heard of the company or its owners.”
In 2019 investigative journalism website Bellingcat said: “Thousands of SLPs, almost always with opaque ownership structures, are housed at mailbox addresses or virtual offices, with no means to contact their true beneficial owner. Just 28 addresses house 91 per cent of all SLPs registered.”
It added: “A group of Dominican nationals were found to have created 912 SLPs. They are consistently found co-signing the registration forms for LP5 forms, either in their capacity as presenters or on behalf of the offshore companies partnering the SLPs they create”.
Bellingcat’s report cited the names Janette St Luce and Deborah Merina Grant – who are signatories to documents held by Companies House regarding Tardigrad International – which was registered in May 2016 as a SLP.
The certification of registration said Janette St Luce signed on behalf of Ardale Impex Ltd. Ardale Impex Ltd corporate status is unclear, but the firm also appears in a controlling role with a number of other offshore entities and limited partnerships.
Deborah Merina Grant signed on behalf of Vessat Holdings Ltd which also uses an address in the Marshall Islands.
In 2018 Tardigrad International LP was dissolved as a limited partnership.
A Scottish limited partnership is a form of partnership under the Limited Partnerships Act 1907.
It is not taxed as an entity. Instead, the SLP partners are taxed on the profits arising from the limited partnership’s activities.
This contrasts with a company which is taxed corporation tax on its profits before its shareholders are further taxed on income they receive.
Tardigrad’s statement in full
Tardigrad’s full statement said: “Tardigrad International Consulting specialises in the transport of medical supplies at a strictly controlled temperature. In the four years of its existence, it has already processed hundreds of orders and also works for Czech medical entities. Although this contract is not exceptional, it is logical that it is subject to intensified control by the media and the public.
“Tardigrad International Consulting entered the tender duly, which was announced by the Ministry of the Interior of the Czech Republic and met all its conditions. In the same way, the schedule of individual deliveries communicates from the beginning and we are still working on the fulfillment of the entire order due to the short deadlines.
“Due to the speed of the order, the first delivery of 1,000,350 tests in a total of 2,223 cartons has been ordered and already paid for,” explains Monika Jírovcová, owner of Tardigrad International Consulting, which is directly in charge of this contract.
“We are now arranging everything needed for the export license and customs clearance, deliveries by trucks to the airport and slots for charter flights.
“However, Tardigrad perceives that the contract is under tight public control. Therefore, it immediately completed all data in the Commercial Register.
“Tardigrad was founded in 2016, since then we have been filing tax returns. Not to publish them in the register is our fault.
“Even if, according to estimates, at least half of Czech companies do not publish data, we will be among those who fulfill the matter, “ adds Jírovcová.
“The company serves a relatively narrow segment of the market, so it does not communicate to the general public. However, it is not true that it does no communications at all.
“An example is its website: www.tardigrad.net . There you can find very accurate information about the products and services that the company offers.
“We operate in a specialised market, so logically we have contacts with a number of manufacturers of medical supplies that need to be stored and transported in a way that can maintain the exact temperatures of this material.
“I should also add that the company consists of specialists who have significantly longer experience with this type of transport than the entire history of the Tardigrad Group.”
Image thanks to iStock/anyaivanova