“Corruption, as it is defined by the World Bank, is a form of dishonesty or a criminal offence which is undertaken by a person or an organisation which is entrusted with a position of authority, in order to acquire illicit benefits or abuse power for one’s private gain.”
The Enquirer can exclusively reveal that Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs is attempting to secretly push through a favourable property deal for Bangladeshi language station Channel S TV ahead of next years local and Mayoral election.
The new lease for the Sutton Street Depot in Sutton Street E1 is due to be decided at full Cabinet this Wednesday 22nd September 2021.
Agenda item 6.9 Lease Renewal at Sutton Street Depot, 6 Sutton Street, London, E1 0AY by Ann Sutcliffe, Corporate Director of Place is innocuous in itself with one glaring omission.
The tenant is not identified anywhere in the document or any related documents. Not a mention. Which is more than a little odd don’t you think?
The Enquirer questioned Tower Hamlets Council three times as to the identity of the tenant with no success.
Eventually we were sent this five-line email.
Thank you for for your email.
Sorry, we are unable to assist with this query.
Short, sharp and not at all to the point. But better than being ignored.
The official comment from Tower Hamlets Council does confirms one of two things.
(1) Tower Hamlets Council genuinely does not know the identity of the Sutton Street Depot tenant or
(2) Tower Hamlets Council does know the tenant’s identity but refuses to make this information public.
As (2) seems the likely option the question is then what is so politically sensitive about this tenant?
Sutton Street depot ’Best Value Inspection’ 2014
The Sutton Street Depot was one of the properties at the centre of the 2014 investigation by government auditors PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) into the administration of Lutfur Rahman.
The final PwC document which was instrumental in the downfall of Rahman, Best Value Inspection of London Borough of Tower Hamlets Report, can be found here, paragraph 2.77 onwards is the section relating to the Sutton Street Depot. Here is a flavour.
Sutton Street depot Mayoral election 2018
The Enquirer can also reveal that in October 2018 Love Wapping (forerunner to the Enquirer) was made aware of allegations that in advance of the Tower Hamlets Mayoral Election held on Thursday, 3rd May, 2018 various deals were done by the Labour administration of Mayor Biggs including an arrangement to extend the lease of Sutton Street depot for Channel S.
A lack of time and resources prevented us from pursuing this further so our information has been languishing on one of our many hard drives all by itself lonesome.
But it all makes sense now.
Those living outside the borough should realise that Bangladeshi language media companies such as Channel S can be hugely influential, especially in advance of an election, as their output can directly influence the voting intentions of our Bangladeshi community.
Or to put it another way, if you are a politician and you do not get good coverage from one of these companies you do not stand much chance of winning an election.
The borough is already in the run up to the local and Mayoral elections in May 2022.
Sutton Street Depot local and Mayoral elections 2021
Despite neither the Mayor, Ann Sutcliffe or any senior council officers considering it is in their interests to identify the mystery tenant the new lease seems quite generous. Here are the basics.
- The grant of a new three-year lease, excluding security of tenure, to the existing occupier of 6 Sutton Street at a rent of £125,000 per annum, subject to an initial 12 month rent free period.
- Approval of the repayment of £80,000 in arrears by virtue of an up-front payment of £40,000 with the balance payable after 3 months after completion of the lease.
- An agreed Schedule of Works with the tenant to be appended to the lease and to be completed within 6-months of completion.
The document by Ann Sutcliffe, Corporate Director of Place who is in charge of all things property, seems to say that the tenant’s previous lease for the Sutton Street Depot expired in June 2018.
The tenant has been covering business rates and security costs during this time.
The Council is of the opinion that the proposed rent of £125,000 a year which the tenant has agreed to pay ‘represents best value for the Council because it provides an income for an otherwise disused building’.
The reason why was it not possible for £375,000 or so of rent to be generated since June 2018 is not addressed. This would be better value.
On expiry of the previous lease in June 2018, the Council did not seek possession to recover the property and the tenant remained in occupation (well, their security guards did).
The document goes on to state that ‘the tenant has been in occupation since June 2018’ (just their security guards?) and that the Council is seeking to recover rent for this occupation. Only £80,000 has been agreed with the tenant, not the approximately £375,000 or so unpaid.
Despite all this Tower Hamlets Council still thinks this tenant is the best tenant it can get for the Sutton Street depot.
Just to further sweeten an already sweet deal the mystery tenant will also benefit from an initial 12 month rent free period subject to it getting agreed work on the premises done.
The alternative option to this deal would be for the Council to seek vacant possession and re-letting the space.
And that’s it. There is only one other possible clue as to the real nature of this deal at paragraph 4.1 (Equalities Implications) which says ‘The future redevelopment of the market site will require planning consent, which will involve consideration of issues such as affordable housing, access and employment opportunities.’
Market site? What market site? Anyone know? firstname.lastname@example.org if you do!
The Council admits (paragraph 6.6) that ‘on first appearances’ it does not go fully towards meeting the Council’s income targets but that not entering into the new lease arrangement would result in zero income for an unknown period so the deal is recommended.
Again this neatly sidesteps the zero income from the site since June 2018. Or maybe those three years just did not count for some reason?
Remember that in Tower Hamlets anything is possible.
There are several similarities between the 2021 Sutton Street Depot lease and that uncovered by PwC in 2014. See the large screen grab at the bottom of the page and have a look for yourself.
And the identity of mystery tenant is…
After the original PwC audit report was published it was revealed the Lutfur Rahman administration had organised a lease for Sutton Street for well known local character and convicted criminal Mahee Ferdous Jalil aka Mohammed Mahee Ferdhaus.
According to his Wikipedia entry (which is a must read) Mr Jalil has numerous convictions for money laundering, conspiracy to defraud and insurance fraud and in 2014 was banned from being a director of a company for ten years.
During Lutfur Rahman’s term as Mayor Mr Jalil was the owner of Bangladeshi media organisation Channel S. In return for the beneficial lease terms for Sutton Street Channel S reported favourably on the Lutfur Rahman administration and so influenced voting in the borough.
Channel S is currently operating from Prestige House in Walthamstow. The controlling company of Channel S is Chs.Tv Limited according to the Channel S website although this is a non-profit organisation.
The Enquirer has been informed by a very reliable source that the mystery tenant for Sutton Street Depot is Channel S .
Mr Jalil is not mentioned as a director on the Channel S website although he does seem to have his own chat show.
The Enquirer has contacted Channel S for comment relating to the new tenancy at the Sutton Street Depot.
Questions To Be Asked
- Why was the name of the tenant not included on the Cabinet document listing the new lease for approval by the Cabinet?
- Who was responsible for the removal of the tenants name from this document?
- Which elected members of Tower Hamlets Council were involved in the preparation of the lease document to be presented at Cabinet on Wednesday 22 September 2021?
- Which council officers were involved in the preparation of the lease document to be presented at Cabinet on Wednesday 22 September 2021?
- Why was Sutton Street Depot left empty for so long?
- What rents have been paid to the council for Sutton Street Depot since 2010? Are these market rents or below market value (‘peppercorn’) rents?
- What was the basis for the continued rental of Sutton Street Depot to the existing tenant (Channel S) and did this involve preferential coverage of Tower Hamlets Labour Party candidates before and during elections?
- Why does Channel S need to rent the Sutton Street Depot site when it has premises in Walthamstow?
- Have any members of Tower Hamlets Council or Tower Hamlets Labour Party discussed the issue of the lease at Sutton Street Depot with Mr Jalil?
- The lease document states at paragraph 4.1 (Equalities Implications) that ‘The future redevelopment of the market site will require planning consent, which will involve consideration of issues such as affordable housing, access and employment opportunities.’ What is the market site? How is this likely to effect the market value of the Sutton Street Depot site?
Probably lots of other questions too, but far too many for a Mole to investigate. Maybe the Metropolitan Police Service should get involved? Just a thought.