By Andrew Hosken
Following an investigation by this programme into Dame Shirley Porter's finances, assets of around £30 million believed to be controlled by the former Tory council leader have been frozen by Westminster Council.
Few people thought Westminster City Council could ever recover the millions owed to it by its former Conservative Leader Dame Shirley Porter. She had at least seven years to re-arrange her finances after the District Auditor accused her of attempting to gerrymander the local electorate with unlawful council flat sales.
But then few people believed Dame Shirley when she told the court in January 2002 that she was worth only £300,000. After all, her father, Sir Jack Cohen, founded Tesco. And she was once described as the 20th wealthiest woman in Europe.
In December 2001, the House of Lords upheld the ruling of the District Auditor, and further added that her wilful misconduct amounted to "political corruption." Dame Shirley was ordered to pay £37 million, a total that grows with interest every day.
Westminster Council hired the city firm Stephenson Harwood to recover the money from Dame Shirley, who lives in Israel, far outside UK jurisdiction. By June, it was rumoured that the only items of worth recovered were a gold plated toilet seat, two portraits of Dame Shirley she had commissioned for herself, and a near worthless half share in a heavily mortgaged flat.
It appeared to the outside world that she was cocking a snook at the rate-payers. Stories would emerge of how Dame Shirley was enjoying £90,000 luxury cruises, despite her pleasof poverty.
The Redbus connection.
Dame Shirley's latest setback was not brought about by her, but as the result of a fierce boardroom battle between her son, John Porter, and Cliff Stanford, the millionaire entrepreneur who set up the Daemon Internet company.
The two men fell out badly over the direction of a company called Redbus Interhouse. They were both directors of the firm and in August last year, Mr Stanford resigned from the company.
Following the dispute, confidential e-mails and documents were obtained by this programme. They appeared to show Dame Shirley taking decisions about many millions of pounds. Some papers apparently showed her making loans to her son. There seemed strong evidence to suggest that Dame Shirley had control of sums well in excess of the £300,000 she said she was worth.
During the last few months, Westminster Council has taken out court orders against 14 different companies and individuals on three different continents, demanding they disclose their financial dealings.
One of those issued with a disclosure order was Peter Green, the one time financial adviser to Dame Shirley Porter. His name appeared frequently on the documents we obtained.
Up until recently, these disclosure orders were protected by gagging orders to prevent Dame Shirley from knowing what was going on. The orders were issued in places where Stephenson Harwood thought Dame Shirley had hidden her money.
The orders required the respondents to disclose information to the council about Dame Shirley's past and present wealth. The disclosure orders have produced for the council a very substantial amount of information.
The frozen assets.
In addition to the freezing order against Dame Shirley herself, the council has obtained from the courts freezing orders over assets worth many millions of pounds in others' hands. For example, investments and cash have been frozen in bank accounts, and a freezing order has also been granted in respect of any of Dame Shirley's assets held by her son, John Porter.
The freezing orders have been granted by the courts in England and Guernsey.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the affair is that so far, nothing yet has been heard from those individuals in whose names the millions were held.
Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, spokesman for Westminster's Labour Group, said on November 5: "The City Council owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the BBC for revealing the detailed account of Dame Shirley Porter's financial affairs. Since the publication of Dame Shirley Porter's financial affairs on the Today programme on June 30th, the City Council has been able to move swiftly to locate much of the £37 million pounds owed to the council tax payer payers. Without the BBC's help and the information I gave the council the council would still be looking for the money."
Dame Shirley said: "In my affidavit as to my personal assets I was completely accurate. It is notable that Stephenson Harwood have sought to involve trusts whose principal beneficiaries have no conceivable connection with this case."
A spokesman for John Porter said: "The tone of your e-mail is to suggest that there are certain assets held in common by Dame Shirley Porter and our client. This is factually incorrect. Further, despite comments in the press to the contrary our client has co-operated with requests made of him by Stephenson Harwood and continues to do so."
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