A businessman who took millions from property investors for a building he didn’t own in Bristol spent fortunes in a single day from Harrods and Selfridges to St Tropez, Paris and Dubai.
Sanjiv Varma used a complex web of companies and bank accounts to transfer money away from Bristol and to his own pocket – or rather, his own company credit card.
And his spending sprees have now been forensically detailed as part of an investigation by liquidators tasked with the job of trying to get the millions back that people handed over for a piece of a property redevelopment project that never happened.
The Joint Liquidators, Paul Atkinson and Glyn Mummery, of FRP Advisory, were appointed by the courts when Grosvenor Property Developers Ltd was wound up.
People had bought property in a 144-unit student flats conversion of the Grosvenor Hotel, putting up £50,000 of the £99,000 asking price.
Grosvenor Property Developers Ltd had a single company director, Jonathan England, but the man driving the project was Sanjiv Varma, who told investigators and anyone else who asked, that he was only a consultant working on behalf of the company’s owner, a Mr Singh.
The Joint Liquidators proved to the satisfaction of the judge in the court that Mr Singh didn’t exist, that Varma was effectively the boss and owner of the company, and that he took all the money and spent it or transferred it out of the country.
(Image: Bristol Live)
They found that on a regular basis, whenever two or three sales had been made, large sums of money were transferred out of the Grosvenor Property account and into other accounts controlled by Varma and England.
The judge said he could not be sure which of the two had spent the money, but he was ‘satisfied on the balance of probabilities’ that it was Varma – mainly because his passport had been stamped showing travel to the places like Turkey and Paris, where the spending happened.
The bulk of the spending happened at a time when the money from deposits for flats was still rolling in, with estate agents in Bristol marketing the £99,000-per-unit project as a great investment.
The investigators told the court that Varma’s companies or personal spending went on the following items:
£3.1 million – diamonds and jewels in Dubai
When questioned, Varma initially claimed they were family heirlooms belonging to the elusive Mr Singh.
£49,830 – Harrods
Between March 31, 2017 and December 18, 2017, the Casa bank card in the name of Mr England – albeit also using Varma’s loyalty card – was used to buy items at Harrods, including:
Dolce and Gabbana men’s designer shoes, Kurt Geiger beds and bedroom furniture, Chanel shoes, Gucci, food hall, Fashion Lab and even in the Harrods’ pizzeria.
£62,287.68 – Selfridges
Between the same dates, and using the same card, but accompanied by a Selfridges loyalty card in the name of Varma’s wife Taru, items including: jewellery and gifts, skincare, perfume, couture beauty, designer room, fresh food, ladies’ shoes and wines and spirits.
“In my judgement, the use of the Casa bank card at Selfridges, as with Harrods, are misappropriations by Mr Varma of company money, in breach of duties owed,” said the judge.
£15,279.93 – restaurants
Majority of the spending in restaurants was in the W1 areas of London. One of the restaurants, Bagatelle, produced copies of bills and receipts.
£10,255 – Gucci in Moscow
There were six payments made for items in the space of five days at the Gucci store in Moscow, at the same time Varma’s passport showed he was in Russia.
£15,693 – Clothes shopping in Moscow
Ten payments made at a variety of other upmarket fashion stores in Moscow during the same week – June 14 to June 20, 2017.
£70,000 – Reiki Healer
The payment was made to an Alexandra Panaite who the judge said the Joint Liquidators ‘believe is a Reiki healer’.
£50,000 to Rob Harwood
£123,522 to A Jain
£26,000 to Kamesh Jain
£32,462 to other individuals referencing Mr Varma.
£93,000 to Vinay Varma. “I have no evidence from the Joint Liquidators as to who Vinay Varma is.
£9,093 to Kookcha Ltd and T Farhang. “The Joint Liquidators say this appears to be a jam start-up company and its director.”
£145,833 to Meenakshi Mathur…”who the Joint Liquidators suggest is a former Miss India”
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“The payments were made during the period June 2017 until October 2017,” said the judge in his ruling.
“They total £3,122,841.75.
During this period, as noted above, the site in Bristol had not been acquired and no planning permission had been sought.
Sums had been collected from investors who had signed a contract for the acquisition of the unit or units,” he added.