Wednesday, April 24

Cllr Sharia Khatun and businessman £2m Abdus Shukur bribe scandal to build Canary Wharf’s longest Skyscraper Tower


 

 

Labour has been plunged into a corruption scandal after a businessman with close ties to the party was secretly recorded demanding a £2m bribe from property developers seeking to build one of Britain’s tallest skyscrapers.

In the recording obtained by The Sunday Times the businessman claimed he was acting on behalf of Labour politicians who could guarantee planning permission for the proposed £500m development in the Isle of Dogs, east London.

He was introduced by Shiria Khatun, a deputy mayor of Labour controlled Tower Hamlets council, as someone who could assist with planning.

He later sent a contract to the developers setting out the illicit deal in which he would deliver planning approval from Tower Hamlets at a premium of £2,000,000. Four Labour politicians would be given half a mill each, he claimed.

The revelations come as Labour is attempting to clean up politics in the borough following the sacking of disgraced independent mayor Lutfur Rahman, who was found guilty of election fraud two years ago, shortly before the secret recording was made. The party has a history of corruption scandals in councils such as Doncaster and North Lanarkshire.

Tower Hamlets has passed the latest bribery allegations to the National Crime Agency, which is investigating.

The businessman is Abdul Shukur Shuks Khalisadar, a 38-year-old entrepreneur who runs a business centre in Whitechapel, east London.

He played a key role in rallying support among business people for the borough’s current Labour mayor, John Biggs, and has been photographed meeting key national party figures such as Harriet Harman when she was deputy leader.

In the recording, leaked by a whistleblower, Shuks chats in a relaxed manner about how he sought the bribe from John Connolly, UK head of development for the Far East Consortium (FEC) — an international property group based in Hong Kong.

At the time, the firm was seeking planning permission to build a development called Alpha Square close to Canary Wharf. The project’s centrepiece is a 65-storey tower which would be the fifth tallest building in Britain.

Shuks says Khatun introduced him to Connolly at a meeting in October 2015 as someone who could help overcome the company’s planning problems. Connolly says in an internal memo, leaked to this newspaper, that the deputy mayor told him that Shuks “can help get planning consent”.

Shuks then took Connolly to one side and offered a guarantee of planning consent in return for a £2m payment plus a consultancy fee of £15,000 a month. He also offered to secure permission for the second stage of Alpha Square for a further £2m.

He claimed that most of the money would go to gatekeepers which he said were Labour politicians who had held power in the area for many years. To be frank, he said. A bulk of the premium’s got to go to these greedy f****** — not me. I’m being blatant.

The conversation was taped by a consultant acting on FEC’s instructions. Rather than pay the bribe, the firm reported the approach to Biggs who called in investigators from the accountancy firm EY four months later.

In the meantime, the council turned down FEC’s application on the advice of its planning officers. The decision was later overturned by the mayor of London.

When approached last week, Shuks admitted asking for the £2m but denied that it was a corrupt offer.

His lawyers said he denied wrongdoing and the negotiations were concluded without any contract being signed.

Shuks confirmed Khatun had introduced him to FEC to help with its planning application but added that she had nothing to do with this. Khatun, who resigned as deputy mayor earlier this year, denies any wrongdoing.

In a statement, Tower Hamlets council said the results of the EY investigation were assessed by a leading QC who recommended that a file should be sent to the Serious Fraud Office. The SFO then passed it on to the National Crime Agency for investigation. We are waiting to hear the outcome.

Both Shuks and Tower Hamlets said they were unable to comment further because of the police investigation.

FEC said it had acted promptly and professionally in reporting the allegations to the mayor of Tower Hamlets.