The purchase of ventilators from the E&K company from Lublin, about which "Wyborcza" was the first one to report three weeks ago, from the beginning aroused great surprise in the medical industry. E&K is a manufacturer of hang gliders, it also organizes flights to inaccessible parts of the world. It belongs to Andrzej Izdebski, formerly involved in illegal arms trade, whom the UN has blacklisted for smuggling arms to Angola and Liberia. According to the media, Izdebski collaborated with, among others, the most famous arms dealer Wiktor But, known as the "death dealer", who is now serving a sentence in an American prison.
A ventilator is not a mask
Ventilator is not a mask that anyone can put on their own. You need trained medical personnel - doctors and nurses - to operate it. It is also necessary to calibrate the ventilator (e.g. regulate the pressure of the air pumped into the lungs) after it is installed, as well as provide mandatory inspections (once a year) and repairs. For all these reasons, such equipment is purchased directly from the manufacturer or its authorised representative.
What is more, the ministry has bought ventilators from E&K at extremely high prices. It paid EUR 44.5 million, or about PLN 200 million, for 1.2 thousand units. This amounts to an average of 165 thousand PLN per unit, while, for example, a high-class ventilator from Draeger costs between 70 and 90 thousand PLN. When including all additional options and equipment, the price goes up to PLN 110-120 thousand.
The Ministry bought four types of devices from E&K:
* 200 Boaray 5000D ventilators from Prunus for 185 thousand zloty each,
* 196 Mtv1000 ventilators at 180,000 a piece,
* 200 Mv2000 ventilators from Korean company Meckics at 183,000 per unit,
* and 645 Bellavista 1000E ventilators, paying 113,000 PLN for each.
Deliveries were to start in April and were supposed to be completed in June. However, so far the company has not delivered a single ventilator. According to our findings, it will not be able to deliver any, because it could not buy them.
- Nobody keeps such a number of ventilators in their warehouse. They are produced when there is an order, because nobody wants to have cash tied up - explains the representative of one of the leading manufacturers on the market.
This was confirmed to us by the American company Vyaire, owner of the Bellavista brand. In response to our questions, the company wrote: "E&K did not buy any number of Bellavista 1000e or any other model from the Bellavista line directly from Vyaire".
No other Polish company bought Bellavista 1000e respirators during the epidemic either directly from Vyaire or from an intermediary. There was no market offer for such a number of units.
Moreover, we found out that even if Izdebski wanted to, he couldn't buy the ventilators from Vyaire due to his former involvement in illegal arms trade. Every potential contractor has to go through "a detailed due diligence process carried out by an external agency to ensure that he complies with all laws and ethical standards".
Last but not least: Bellavista ventilators are mid-range devices. Vyaire sells them for about $10,000, almost three times less than the price paid by the Ministry. It is also not true that during the pandemic prices went up sharply. Not when it comes to ventilators manufactured by Western companies. The prices are higher because the zloty has weakened, but no producer has raised the basic rates.
- It would be fatal for our public image, because the public would accuse us of profiteering from the epidemic - we heard from one of the companies.
Not Poland, but Pakistan
We also received an e-mail in which a representative of the Korean company Meckics stated that he had no contact with the E&K company, he does not know what the company is, and Meckics did not make any deal with such a company.
As for the Boaray 500D ventilators, a Chinese company called Prunus sent 200 units for a price of $5.8 million (the same as listed by E&K). However, the transaction was not with Poland, but with Pakistan.
When we called E&K three weeks ago to ask why a hang glider company suddenly started trading in ventilators and why it sells them for such a high price, a man who did not introduce himself picked up the phone. He offered to respond via e-mail. The answer to the questions came without a signature: "It has been a long time since we have stopped manufacturing hang gliders. For many years we have been dealing (among other things) in medical devices. Our offer was the cheapest on the market, we also offered the shortest delivery times". As of right now, no one in the company is answering the phone or responding to e-mails anymore.
Why does Poland need so many ventilators?
A week ago, the Minister of Health Łukasz Szumowski spoke to the Sejm because the Civic Coalition has filed a motion of censure concerning him. The reason was the lack of preparation of hospitals for the epidemic and the Ministry's purchases related to the epidemic.
In response to the opposition's accusations, he boasted that unlike in Italy, there was never a shortage of ventilators in Poland.
In the hospitals intended entirely for dealing with coronavirus, devices were available during the entire time since the epidemic started, and now up to 95% of them are free to be deployed whenever necessary.
If this is the case, however, then what was the rationale behind the Ministry's decision to buy as many as 1.5 thousand ventilators (300 were bought from companies other than E&K)?
The department responded in a serious tone. It explained that it intended to buy three types of ventilators.
First, it was interested in high-class devices designed for patients with acute respiratory failure in the course of COVID-19.
Second objective was to buy lower-class ventilators, which could replace the better ones used in intensive care units. The point is that during the epidemic patients from these wards could use less sophisticated equipment, while the more advanced units already in possession of the hospitals would be deployed for patients with coronavirus.
The third type was to be transport ventilators, which are mainly used for transporting patients between hospitals and intra-hospital transfers.
We asked for the technical data of the ventilators to explain why they were so expensive. "The technical requirements for the ventilators were agreed with the national consultant in the field of anaesthesiology and intensive care, Prof. Radosław Owczuk," the Office of Communication of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs wrote to us.
"I confirm that the Ministry of Health agreed with me the technical requirements and characteristics of the groups of purchased ventilators" - wrote Prof. Owczuk. However, he pointed out that "I did not give my opinion on the suppliers of medical equipment (ventilators)".
According to our information, only 30 transport ventilators have been delivered so far. These are the devices which KGHM bought from JiuJiuXin. The problem is that for the type of JIXI-H-100A devices the Polish copper giant paid 120 thousand PLN each, and on the manufacturer's website they are offered for 2.3 thousand USD, i.e. more than ten times cheaper. A KGHM spokeswoman did not tell us why these ventilators were bought so expensive.
Public procurement during coronavirus - a gold mine for scamming
Three weeks ago, the Ministry of Health answered the question about why it bought the ventilators from a company belonging to an arms dealer: "E&K is a legitimate entity. The Ministry does not check the business profile of companies bidding for coronavirus-related procurement. Bids were always verified against the contract criteria and the tenderer's ability to deliver. In this case there was a positive recommendation from the Central Anticorruption Bureau". - the Ministry emphasized.
However, E&K was not and is not able to deliver the equipment it offered. Information that Izdebski was involved in the arms trade is available on the Internet. So why did the Anticorruption Bureau issue a positive recommendation to buy ventilators from him? And on what basis was his offer credible? The CBA has not yet answered these questions either. Also, the Ministry of Health has not answered the last questions about deliveries from E&K and the question about who signed the transaction.
Janusz Cieszyński, Deputy Minister of Health, is responsible for purchases in MZ. It was him, as we revealed in April, who was in favour of the introduction of a provision into the coronaviral special law to ensure impunity for the perpetrators of crimes under Articles 231 and 296 of the Penal Code.
The amendments suggested by Cieszynski concerned the abuse of powers by a public officer and causing financial damage to the economy. Under normal circumstances, such crimes are punishable by up to ten years in prison.
The special law says that if a public official bought equipment to fight the epidemic, there will be no liability.
Unofficially, however, we found out that Cieszyński avoids signing any contracts on purchases connected with the epidemic. The directors subordinate to him do it for him.
Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronovirus pandemic for you.
They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.
We have decided to open online access to our news stories and special guides focused on the issue of public health, for free.
The access to information should be equal for all.