A man who took millions from property investors by selling student flats in a landmark derelict Bristol hotel looks set to be jailed.
But Sanjiv Varma, who took more than £9 million from people in 2017 and 2018, is not facing a prison sentence for the dealings – but for lying about it to official investigators and judges in court.
The Indian-born businessman who is now a resident in Dubai took £50,000 deposits for around 140 student flats inside the Grosvenor Hotel near Temple Meads station, which were marketed by some of Bristol’s leading city centre estate agents.
But Varma didn’t own the building, and didn’t have planning permission to convert the near-derelict hotel into student flats.
And when city council planners told him it was unlikely such a scheme would get planning permission, the project collapsed.
But Varma had been spending the money on a lavish lifestyle, including shopping sprees to designer stores in St Tropez, Dubai, Paris and Moscow, as well as spending thousands in Harrods and Selfridges.
He tried to cover up his globe-trotting spending sprees by withholding his passport from investigators and even told them some relevant pages showing where he’d been had been destroyed by a dog biting them.
(Image: Bristol Live)
He even spent almost £5 million of the company’s money buying a large number of diamonds and jewellery – and then told investigators they were his own family heirlooms that the company had invested in, to ‘keep the money safe’.
He gave his own son £2 million to buy a swanky London flat in Mayfair, and told investigators when they finally caught up with him, that all the company’s decisions were being made by a mystery man who he had lost contact with.
Varma has never been prosecuted in a criminal case for what happened with the Grosvenor Hotel. Instead, official Government liquidators were appointed to get the money back, and in a series of court cases last year and earlier this year, judges found Varma liable for the missing £9.3 million that investors had given to him.
A second case brought by the liquidators against Varma’s son and others allegedly involved in the company was held last month and a ruling about whether they are liable to repay any of the money is expected in the next couple of weeks.
But the liquidators did not end their legal actions against Varma with the confirmation that he is liable for the money.
In a follow-up case heard last month, they asked a judge to find him in contempt of court for lying to various court hearings, and for failing to adhere to court rulings that he has to supply evidence and documents.
His Honour Judge Alan Johns, sitting in a rare contempt hearing of the Chancery Court in London has now found Varma guilty of multiple contempts of court, and those who brought the case are asking for a custodial sentence.
“In my judgment, there can be little doubt that Mr Varma’s false statements have interfered with the course of justice in a material respect,” HHJ Johns said.
“Indeed, there was no separate argument about this before me. In inventing the jewellery deal, the silent shareholders in GCFZE, and the non-disclosure agreement with them, as well as failing to disclose his own assets and what became of the £3.1m paid by the Company, Mr Varma has made it more difficult for the liquidators to obtain judgment for and recovery of sums paid to him.
“Indeed, as that can have been his only object in making the false statements, he not merely knew of the likelihood that they would interfere with the course of justice, he intended that result,” he added.
Varma will be sentenced in person at a hearing in London in September.