Exclusive: Police in £18m city fraud inquiry want to quiz councillor

Exclusive: Police in £18m city fraud inquiry want to quiz councillor

Friday, 8th August 2014, 7:43 pm
Updated Wednesday, 14th December 2016, 1:58 pm

Detectives investigating an alleged £18 million housing fraud at Brighton and Hove City Council are keen to speak to a councillor who may have important information.

The development follows the arrest of four men on Wednesday - subsequently released on police bail - seven months after a special six-page report by Brighton and Hove Independent.

Our special report exposed the relationship between Jugal Sharma, the city council's suspended head of housing, his brother's property company, and a multi-million-pound 10-year contract between KEM Property Services (KEM) and the council, to provide homes for the homeless.

One of those arrested was Ashley Parker - otherwise known as Ashone Sharma and Ashoni Parker - the younger brother of Mr Sharma, 53, who was suspended from his £82,500-a-year job late last year.

Mr Sharma is currently on holiday. He is expected to be arrested and interviewed on his return to his home in Holland Road, Hove. A police source said: "He will be back later this month. We definitely know where he is."

Fraud detectives are interested in two emails - allegedly from KEM's advisers - supposedly telling senior council officers about Mr Sharma's family connections.

They want to speak to a councillor who is thought to have knowledge of the emails, one of which the councilor told Brighton and Hove Independent was timed at 3.55pm on June 10 2004.

There is no suggestion the councillor has done anything wrong.

A second man arrested on Wednesday was 57-year-old Edward Charles Parker-Bancroft, of Harlands Road, Haywards Heath, a KEM director initially identified in our special report on January 10.

Today, we can reveal that a third man arrested was Alan Fisher, of Ashvale Drive, Upminster, Essex. Mr Fisher, 67, is a former partner of Reeve, Fisher and Sands, an Essex-based firm of conveyancers that was wound up last December after HMRC tax inspectors launched an investigation into an alleged stamp duty fraud that reportedly left more 80 homeowners in financial diffculties.

The firm is named on deeds of two properties associated with Ashley Parker, 51, and Jugal Sharma: 121 Balfour Road in Ilford, Essex, where Mr Parker was arrested, and 106 Newark Street, London E1 2ES.

A fourth man, 53, was arrested at an address in Elms Road in southwest London.

The arrests came shortly before up to a dozen police officers, with dogs, executed a warrant during a visit to a lower-ground office in Albert House, Queen's Road, near Brighton Station.

The KEM office is routinely attended by Nitin (and/or Nitan) Bafna, company secretary of KEM and a director of a separate company, KEM Maintenance Services Company, which is also a city council supplier.

Mr Bafna was not in the office yesterday (Thusday) ; nor was he available at his home in Upper North Street, Brighton.

In a statement, Penny Thompson, chief executive of Brighton and Hove City Council, said: 'We take allegations of misconduct in public office very seriously. Following an investigation by our internal audit team, we notified police and we are co-operating fully. A disciplinary investigation is continuing.

Subsequently, a friend of Mr Sharma, who worked closely with him in the past, said the suspended council officer was the victim of a witch-hunt.

The friend, who wished to remain anonymous, said: 'This business started 10 months ago. If Jugal had done anything wrong, there would have been a disciplinary process.

'But, despite heavy pressure from the council witch-finders on his colleagues to come up with incriminating statements, there is still no case against him.

'It is high time the chief executive took personal responsibility. She needs to admit that a gross injustice has been done and re-instate Jugal without delay.'