Franco-Dutch firm Gemalto won the British contract ahead of UK firm De La Rue
The Franco-Dutch firm set to print the new blue passport was last night facing questions over a bungled contract with the Peruvian government.
Gemalto, which won the British contract ahead of UK firm De La Rue, helped make new e-passports for the South American nation as part of a consortium.
But the high-tech documents came in for huge criticism after they were introduced in 2016, it has emerged. Problems included typos and peeling covers.
The consortium boasted the new passport offered the highest levels of security. But a series of failings – blamed partly on then-president Ollanta Humala’s push to speed up the passports’ introduction for political gain – were exposed in leaked government documents.
British MPs last night said the revelations raise urgent questions over Gemalto’s suitability to take on the British contract.
Respected Peruvian investigative TV programme Panorama said the most common concerns were the peeling of the passport cover and errors in printing and content.
National newspaper El Comercio said the problems led to chaos in Peru in July 2016, when hundreds of people arrived to collect their new documents.
Peruvian MP Victor Andres Garcia Belaunde claimed the mistakes could lead to innocent travellers being mistaken for criminals and thrown in jail. Speaking after the introduction of the system, which cost the Peruvian taxpayer more than £22million, he said: ‘If you arrive in a foreign county with a defective passport, they throw you in jail or deport you.
‘They automatically suspect something strange is going on, that you’ve falsified the passport or you’re part of a mafia or you’re hiding something, because passports should be fail-safe.’
The latest concerns come after it was revealed last week that Gemalto had supplied Estonia with as many as 750,000 ID cards with security flaws.
Experts told the Mail the company could be linked to millions of cards vulnerable to cloning and identity theft. These were sold across Europe, including to at least one government and several private businesses.
MPs last night said questions were mounting over Gemalto’s suitability to produce British passports.
They said the Government should consider going with British firm De La Rue, which has produced British passports since 2009 and has never missed a delivery during that time.
MPs said questions were mounting over Gemalto’s suitability to produce the new blue British passports
It makes around eight million a year under the current contract, and overall prints more than 15 million passports for a range of countries each year.
Our passports are printed at De La Rue’s plant in Bathford, Somerset, before being assembled and personalised in its Gateshead factory, where up to 200 jobs are at risk.
De La Rue believes it came ahead of its Franco-Dutch rival in the UK passport bid on both quality and security – and was undercut only on price.
Liz Twist, Labour MP for Blaydon, where De La Rue’s Gateshead factory is based, said of the Peru claims: ‘If it’s true it really reinforces that we need to be very clear that the contract really needs to be deliverable in the terms that we need it to be.’
Ian Mearns, Labour MP for Gateshead, said: ‘De La Rue are a known quantity – there are no question marks over the quality of what they have been providing to the Government.
‘And the Government really do need to do a full assessment of the deliverability of the contract at the price which they have quoted.’
Peter Bone, Conservative MP for Wellingborough, said: ‘This is one of the reasons why we need to look at this contract again. We have a British company that provides passports the world over and does a first class job, and the other company comes in with a significantly cheaper price.
‘Has anyone thought, well maybe they are doing that because the quality won’t be as good or they are trying to undercut?
‘That’s why I think it needs to be looked at again. And if there is evidence of previous contracts by this company where the quality has not been good enough, that’s even more reason.
‘Look at what happened with Carillion – they put in a silly price and it resulted in contracts not being done. Well imagine if that were British passports, that would be unprecedented. It’s right that we look again at the contract and make sure that it has been awarded not just on the cheapest price but what we want for the contract.’
Questioned about the claims in the Peru documentary, a Gemalto spokesman said French state printer Imprimerie Nationale led the consortium in Peru and manufactured the passport. She said: ‘Gemalto is delivering the personalisation solution.’
She added the new passport had won best ID document at an industry award ceremony in June 2016. Imprimerie Nationale did not respond to requests for comment.
How the row unfolded
June 2009 – British firm De La Rue wins £400million, ten-year contract to supply the UK’s new biometric passports.
December 2017 – Home Office announces Britain’s new post-Brexit passports will return to their original blue colour. The passports became burgundy after the UK joined the EU.
March 22, 2018 – It emerges ministers have decided to give the £490million contract to print the passports to Franco-Dutch firm Gemalto.
March 24 – Daily Mail launches petition calling for the passports to be made here.
April 2 – Home Office extends original deadline for challenging the decision to make the passports abroad by two weeks.
April 3 – De La Rue suggests Gemalto’s £490million bid, which undercut its rivals by £50million, was deliberately below cost price.
April 4 – Security fears over the new passports mount as it emerges that Gemalto supplied Estonia with as many as 750,000 ID cards with security flaws.
April 5 – Daily Mail delivers petition, signed by over 300,000 readers, to No 10.
April 17 – Home Office’s final deadline for challenging the contract decision