Sir Peter Bottomley told the leasehold debate at the Commons on December 20:
“I cannot distinguish between one Tchenguiz brother and the other, or between them and the Tchenguiz trusts, so I will talk about Tchenguiz interests and those who know can pick up on whether they are involved or affected.
“There are two points on which I criticise them. One was when they controlled Peverel, property managing agents who owned a business called Cirrus — as in the cloud.
“When some of the company’s large number of [retirement] freehold blocks were said to have needed the call system replaced, there was a competition between the very big firm, Cirrus, and two little minnows.
“So, if we think that 99.9% was Cirrus and 0.1% was those two little minnows, there was collusive tendering. Sadly, the economic crime unit of the police, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Serious Fraud Office did not manage to get together at the same time to work out how to deal with this rip-off of millions of pounds from leaseholders.
“When Peverel/Cirrus discovered that the game was up, they declared that they had been involved in collusive cartel bidding.
“We know from the Virgin-BA case that the first to declare that they have been involved in a cartel is penalty-free.
“The fact is that the size of Cirrus compared with the size of the minnows made that an absurd judgment. If the police, the fraud office and the FCA had been together, they would have stopped it, but they did not, so those involved got off scot-free.
“The other Tchenguiz interest was in Charter Quay in [Kingston] upon Thames.
The numbers might be wrong, but they are illustrative. Imagine the Tchenguiz interest buying the freehold of Charter Quay for £750,000 and then, in the same year, writing the value up to £2 million, £3 million or £4 million, before borrowing, say, £2 million against it.
“When the leaseholders eventually get together, they discover on the accounts that the Tchenguiz interest—or someone—has been running an office phone through the lift phone in the block of flats to get a good deal from the telephone providers.
“The leaseholders then get control of management and apply for the freehold, only for the freehold block to be estimated not at £750,000, and not £2 million, £3 million or £4 million, but at just under £1 million.
“It came down to about a third of the valuation that the new owners had put on it. In that case, I think, there was a settlement before the thing was finally determined by the court, but the figures are there.
“The freehold went from £750,000 to £900,000, having gone to £2 million, £3 million or £4 million in between. I ask the professional regulators for the bankers involved in the loan, the surveyors who went along with the valuation and the accountants who did the accounts to ask how they explain this. I think that there was professional incompetence or collusion, and that is not what professionals are supposed to do. I hope that it is not happening again now.”
James Berry (Conservative, Kingston and Surbiton)
“I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for mentioning Charter Quay in my constituency, as well as the fantastic campaigning work done by the residents’ association to overturn a situation caused by the skulduggery of the Tchenguiz operation.
“I should point out that I have a property that I rent out—not in Charter Quay or anywhere in the constituency. Does my hon. Friend agree that a lot of people living in leasehold properties are older people who have downsized and can ill afford the additional and inflated costs and expenses associated with such properties?”
Sir Peter Bottomley
“My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
“If a leaseholder wants to exercise their rights under the law or to stop being abused because someone is trying to assert rights that they do not have, they have to know 22 Acts of Parliament, regulations and codes.
“Tribunals, whether in property or employment, ought not to allow some clever QC to come along and say that there is one thing that they have not been aware of that means that the rest of the case falls away; they should ask whether most of the case has been established, in which case the precise details of law—so long as what the tribunal decides is not unlawful—should carry through.
“The presumption should be that if there is trickery—legal or economic—or unfair pressure, the small person’s voice should come out on top.”
The full debate can be seen here at 13.19: http://www.parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/fc53bd87-8abf-4986-b7ce-6a7a488b8cfc