Detectives are investigating allegations of a £2 million corruption scandal involving Tower Hamlets Council.
The investigation began 18 months ago but only came to light at the weekend after The Sunday Times published a story based on a secret recording of Tower Hamlets-based businessman, Abdul Shukur Khalisadar, asking for a £2 million “premium” in exchange for securing planning permission from his connections on the council.
The planning permission involved a £500 million project which would have produced two skyscrapers on a site called Alpha Square on the Isle of Dogs, adjacent to Canary Wharf and part of the developement of the South Quay area. The developers behind the project, Far East Consortium are based in Hong Kong.
The application was turned down by the council in February 2016 but approved two months later by, the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson.
The allegations were first reported to Tower Hamlets in 2016 and then passed by the Serious Fraud Office to the National Crime Agency.
Khalisadar told EastLondonLines: “The recording is partial and misleading, I did not bribe anyone, no contract of any sort was signed …..this was two years ago and neither the council nor the police have been in touch with me at any time since then.”
This is the second scandal to affect Tower Hamlets in recent memory. Only two years ago, The former Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfar Rahman, was forced out of office and found guilty of electoral fraud.
The current Mayor of Tower Hamlets, John Biggs, said: “Since I was elected I have worked tirelessly to combat corruption and wrong-doing and to make the council more open and transparent. This was a legacy of past bad behaviour and this story tells us that there remain serious risks to us.”
“It is frustrating that the police have still to complete an investigation into the detailed reports that were passed to them about 18 months ago.”
A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets council added: “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. We did this and the SFO then passed it onto the National Crime Agency for investigation. We are waiting to hear the outcome.”
The Tower Hamlets Conservative Group are now questioning why the police weren’t involved straight away. Councillor Andrew Wood, deputy leader of the Conservative Group, said: “The delay in reporting this to the appropriate authorities and the resultant secrecy we believe is extremely damaging.”
Councillor Peter Golds, leader of the Conservative Group, is now calling on the Secretary of State to appoint to independent commissioners to oversee and decide planning applications within the borough until this investigation is complete.
Leader of the Independent Group, Councillor Oliur Rahman, has made similar demands: “John Biggs recommended that commissioners be appointed to Tower Hamlets in the first place. Surely he’ll see the need for them to return now?”