The Sunday Times has today published allegations that a local businessman with links to Tower Hamlets Labour Party offered to help a property developer win a major planning application on the Isle of Dogs for a £2m payment that would be split between four “gatekeepers” on Tower Hamlets Council.
The identity of these four individuals, presumed to be elected Labour councillors, is not currently known.
Cllr. Shiria Khatun & ‘Shuks’
The businessman is named as Abdul Shukur “Shuks” Khalisadar.
Update: Since publication of this story was published the photograph below has emerged which LW understands shows Mr. Khalisadar speaking at a People’s Alliance of Tower Hamlets (PATH) event with Cllr. Rabina Khan.
It is alleged that Cllr. Khatun introduced Mr Khalisadar to an agent acting for the property developer.
Both Cllr. Khatun and Mr Khalisadar both deny any wrongdoing.
Khatun and Biggs public spat
Alpha Square development
It is alleged that Mr Khalisadar sought the £2m bribe payment from the Hong Kong based Far East Consortium (FEC) property group in relation to the £500m Alpha Square development on the Isle of Dogs that would include a 65-storey tower.
The planning application was rejected by Tower Hamlets council in 2016 but then approved by Mayor Boris Johnson.
Mayor Biggs reaction
“When these allegations were raised with me I immediately made the Chief Executive and the council’s Monitoring Officer aware of them and passed over the material I was given for them to act upon,” said Mayor of Tower Hamlets John Biggs.
“The council commissioned an external investigation to look into the allegations and gather evidence which was subsequently referred to the Serious Fraud Office.”
Statement by Tower Hamlets council
Mayor Biggs informed two years ago
The Far East Consortium informed Mayor John Biggs of the attempted bribe in 2015 but it was not until April 2016 that the Council appointed accountancy firm EY to investigate.
National Crime Agency investigating
After an assessment by EY the allegation was passed to the Serious Fraud Office who in turn passed it to the National Crime Agency (NCA), the UK’s equivalent of the FBI. It is presumed this investigation is still in progress.
A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets Council said:
“Sound governance and transparency has been at the heart of Tower Hamlets Council’s work since the change of leadership in 2015. This has included a new whistleblowing policy, clear processes for decision making and the independent investigation of historic complaints of wrongdoing.
“Our planning process was not compromised in any way by the Alpha Square planning application. It was rejected by our Strategic Development Committee in February 2016 with six councillors voting to reject it and two abstaining. Council officers recommended it for refusal.
“When the council was made aware of these allegations, we brought in an independent external investigator to gather evidence. Their findings were then assessed by a leading QC who recommended that we report the matter to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). We did this and the SFO then passed it onto the National Crime Agency for investigation. We are waiting to hear the outcome.
“We received strong advice from legal counsel not to take any further steps to investigate the matter as to do so could risk prejudicing a police investigation. This remains the position.”
- At the February 2016 Strategic Development Committee, council officers recommended rejecting the application.
- FEC went to the Mayor of London to appeal the decision and it was approved by the Mayor of London in April 2016, however the proposed development has not taken place.
- In April 2016, the Mayor and the Chief Executive instructed the then Corporate Director for Law, Probity and Governance to commission an independent external investigation into the allegation.
- In August 2016, the results were then passed onto the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
- In September 2016, the SFO said it would not be opening a criminal investigation themselves but would pass the matter to the National Crime Agency (NCA).
“How can we trust the Council?”
Local resident Kirsty Finlayson is in the running to be the Wapping and SKD Conservative candidate next year, and if successful will have the huge task of filling the shoes of Julia ‘Leave the tinsel to me’ Dockerill (now MP for somewhere else that is not Wapping.)
This is Kirsty’s take on the Alpha Towers bribery allegations.
“I worry that today’s allegations of corruption running deep into the Labour Party will not just affect Canary Wharf, where many Wapping residents work, but also the area of St Katharine’s & Wapping itself.,” says Kirsty.
“There are several developments which are both in progress and planned in our ward; how can we trust the Council on these projects given today’s news story?”
“The London Dock school plans and the clandestine nature of a recent officials’ meeting is just one example of shady dealings behind closed doors: Wapping residents deserve better than last-minute consultations which were not properly notified to Councillor Julia Dockerill and the residents who are both affected and concerned.”
There are some details of the Sunday Times story that just do not ring true.
Firstly it would take a lot less than £500k to bribe a corrupt local councillor. £50k each would probably do the job, £100k tops.
Property development in Tower Hamlets is a gold mine for those who can afford to invest and it should surprise nobody that bribes are offered and accepted on a routine basis. But that does not mean the Council, its elected representatives or officers are complicit.
The allegation is that this has been done before. If four councillors have been receiving large sums of (tax free) cash on a irregular basis people would have noticed by now. It’s a poor borough and the rich are very obvious.
The other weakness in the story is the implicit belief that by bribing four councillors the job is done. This is unrealistic.
Councillors are only the elected representatives and public face of a huge local authority administration with, even in Tower Hamlets, checks and balances built in.
For the planning procedure to be subverted in this manner the collusion of council officers would be required. The Sunday Times has no evidence or even indication of this.
Timing politically motivated?
This being Tower Hamlets there is the distinct possibility that the timing and motivation for this story to surface now is political.
LW has notice a marked increase in fake news stories being circulated in the hope of damaging political rivals.
That does not mean the Alpha Square bribery allegations are untrue but could explain their timing.
Questions to be asked
- Are these allegations true?
- Who are the four Labour councillors who Mr. Khalisadar believes could be bought for £500,000 each?
- If it is proved that the allegations are true how many other planning applications have been rigged in this way?
- If Mayor Biggs was told of this allegation in 2015 why did it take another year for this to be reported to accountants EY?
- Why was EY brought in and not the police? In a borough crippled by the corrupt activities of Tower Hamlets First it simply beggars belief that the police were not called in immediately.
Mayor Biggs has made much of his desire for his Labour administration to be transparent and open. If the timeline published by the Sunday Times is accurate the Mayor has failed to meet his own standards.
There are now two major criminal investigations into Tower Hamlets council, the NCA inquiry outlined above into the current administration and Operation Lynemouth into the previous administration.
Only a fool would bet against there not being a third.
Laughing all the way to the ballot
Bottom line with the Alpha Square allegations is that Lutfur Rahman and his corruptly elected cronies have been given the best gift they could wish for ahead of the local and Mayoral elections in May 2018.
If Lutfur Rahman’s proxy candidate Ohid Ahmed is elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets next year it could be because voters read the Sunday papers and think “These politicians are all the same.”
And who would blame them?
Related Internet Links
- What is wrong with Tower Hamlets? – Sunday Times [£]
- Corruption claims stalk party stronghold of Tower Hamlets – Sunday Times [£]
- Labour in £2m skyscraper bribes scandal – Sunday Times [£]
- Labour fixer boasted “£2m seals the deal” – Sunday Times [£]
- Council Bribery Policy (PDF) – Tower Hamlets Council
- Council Anti-Fraud & Corruption Strategy(PDF) – Tower Hamlets Council