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Who is Michelle Mone? The PPE Profiteer With a Dodgy Crypto Past

Last Updated December 20, 2023 12:05 PM
Josh Adams
Last Updated December 20, 2023 12:05 PM
Key Takeaways
  • Baroness Michelle Mone made her name in the lingerie business.
  • However, she once had a stint as a controversial crypto entrepreneur.
  • Now a senior UK cabinet member is calling for a criminal investigation.

Baroness Michelle Mone of Mayfair OBE is no stranger to controversy. The former Conservative peer, lingerie tycoon—and still a member of the UK’s House of Lords—has become the focus of much controversy thanks to her role in her procurement of PPE during the COVID-19 pandemic

However, the Scottish entrepreneur also has a checkered history  in cryptocurrency. One that she is very reluctant to speak about.

Michelle Mone and EQUI

In 2018, Mone launched the EQUI token, pitched as a way for everyday investors to back early-stage tech startups. However, the project quickly unraveled amid dismal fundraising success and questions around Mone’s crypto credentials.

The seeds of EQUI  were sown in the ICO boom of 2017 and 2018. Together with businessman Doug Barrowman, Mone aimed to disrupt venture capital and “open up the playing field” to non-industry investors lacking the wealth and connections traditionally required. In interviews, the pair enthusiastically claimed they were putting their “incredible reputations” behind the project. However, by the initial April 12, 2018 close date, they had raised just $7 million of a targeted $80 million. An extension fared little better, painting a picture of profound failure relative to their lofty ambitions.

Rechristened as EQUI Global, the venture gained headline-grabbing backing from Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak  later in 2018. At the time, Wozniak said: “Since I co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs, this is about the second time in twenty years that I actually said yes, I want to be a part of this.”.

Yet his involvement appears to have been largely symbolic. There have been no major announcements related to EQUI or Wozniak’s ongoing participation since then.

As EQUI floundered, critics questioned what expertise Mone brought to the crypto table. She had previously billed herself as “one of the biggest experts in cryptocurrency and blockchain” despite little evidence to support this. Profiles focused more on her rags-to-riches personal story  than any notable contributions to the space. For Mone, the episode is, perhaps, a triumph—at the time—of style and marketing over substance. 

EQUI Capital Partners, the company behind the token, was dissolved on March 7 of this year, according to official records . The venture came close to compulsory dissolution in 2022, only months before the company ceased operating. Its sole listed director shares the same name with Mone’s husband, Douglas Barrowman. 

Mone was elevated  to the Peerage by former Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015, giving her a position-for-life in Britain’s second legislative chamber.

While the peerage system has a history  of titles being handed out for monetary patronage and political purpose rather than for merit, Mone’s credentials, both in crypto and policymaking, seem particularly weak.

As one critic pithily surmised: she is “more glamour than substance.” The rapid rise and calamitous fall of EQUI does little to challenge this assessment. Grand claims around the cryptocurrency token swiftly gave way to ignominy and inaction, much like her descent from Conservative grandee to central figure in an alleged COVID contract misappropriation scandal. 

A Questionable Profit From the COVID Crisis

For Baroness Mone, controversy and questions appear to be recurring themes rather than one-off aberrations. 

In a recent high profile interview with the BBC, Mone admitted to lying to the press about her connection with PPE Medpro, a company created for the purpose of procuring personal protective equipment for healthcare workers at a time of national (and international) crisis. 

In the same interview, Mone’s husband and business partner, Doug Barrowman, admitted that they made an approximately 30% profit on the public contract. A figure that far outways the usual margins for working with public bodies.

On Tuesday, long-standing Conservative cabinet minister, Michael Gove, has called for a criminal investigation  into her behavior during the COVID-19 pandemic. She has yet to respond at the time of writing.

Michelle Mone did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

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