Alleged misconduct by Sandwell Councillor Mahboob Hussain pursued
Misconduct alleged against a former deputy council leader will be pursued, the authority says.
Sandwell Councillor Mahboob Hussain is accused of six alleged council code of conduct breaches, according to solicitors Gowling WLG.
The law firm was brought in 15 months ago to investigate alleged irregularities in the sale of the authority's former properties.
Mr Hussain, now suspended by Labour, denies any wrongdoing.
Gowling investigated alleged irregularities in sales from 2011-2013, including three old public toilet blocks and a former coroner's office in Smethwick.
A parallel police investigation ended in March with no further action.
Publication of Gowling's report had been delayed after legal action by "one of the parties named", the council said, but was published on Friday "in the public interest".
Documents leaked to the BBC earlier had shed light on its findings.
The authority's chief executive Jan Britton said the "next step" was to refer allegations to its internal disciplinary watchdog- the standards committee - to consider.
Mr Britton said a review would take place to "tighten up council procedures on land sales" and it would "consider if any disciplinary action against employees was required."
The allegations set out in the report include:
- The sale of three former council-owned public conveniences for £35,000 to a friend of Mr Hussain, two days after a district valuer said they were worth £130,000
- Mr Hussain and councillor Ian Jones both "agreed to ignore" the valuation, said the QC. There is no evidence Mr Hussain "obtained any advantage" and Mr Jones was a "passive bystander", Gowling said
- Mr Hussain requested "in effect" for parking tickets for his wife and a son to be cancelled
- It is likely confidential information was shared by Mr Hussain with his son Azeem Hafeez before Mr Hafeez submitted a bid for the former coroner's office in Smethwick, the day before the property was advertised by the council
- It is alleged Mr Hussain tried to "persuade" the council to seek to buy a strip of land, which he knew was owned by his son - who also previously worked for the council - and the relationship was not revealed. The sale did not proceed, Gowling said
- The QC also said Mr Hafeez "appeared to have done nothing" to declare his interest as an employee or Mr Hussain's son, which allegedly breached Section 117 of the Local Government Act 1972 [on disclosure by officers of direct or indirect pecuniary interests] and the council's Officer Code of Conduct and meant "disciplinary action" was required
Former economy chief councillor Mr Jones and Mr Hussain stood down from the ruling cabinet after investigations began, but both had their suspensions from the Labour party lifted before elections on 5 May.
Mr Hussain has now been suspended afresh, the party confirmed.
Tipton Green ward councillor Mr Jones, whom the report said faced no misconduct issue, said he was "pleased" to see the report published and with those conclusions.
He added: "Throughout this matter I have always protested my innocence of any wrongdoing and I have always fully co-operated with all investigations."
Oldbury ward councillor Mr Hussain gave evidence to the report that he did not know who was buying the toilet blocks because the purchase was through a company name, not the name of his friend.
He said he had not been consulted and had not been aware of the price.
Mr Hafeez, who was arrested last year, provided no evidence despite requests, the report said. He has not yet responded to further questions from the BBC.
Police told him in November 2015 he would face no action.
He said in November his arrest "did not relate to the sale or purchase of any former Sandwell Council properties" and he was "considering taking legal action against a number of individuals and organisations".
Behind this saga is no little irony.
The council introduced its so-called asset management strategy, under which it planned to streamline its operations into fewer buildings, to reduce its overheads and bring in some money by selling off property it no longer needed, it said to mitigate government cuts.
In the months since these investigations began, the council has spent thousands of pounds on solicitors to investigate these serious allegations and commissioning James Goudie QC to advise the council on whether it could publish the solicitors' work, putting a big dent in any money it might have made on these sales.