Centrist MP Virendra Sharma and Ealing Council leader Julian Bell have been named as co-defendants in a court claim by a local restaurant.
The court papers say that Sharma and Bell – who doubles up as the MP’s office manager – booked the Aroma Banqueting Suite for a central fundraising social through Sharma’s constituency office but never paid the £5,600 bill.
Legal costs and interest have increased the amount claimed to £6877 to date.
Locals claim that problems arose for the pair after Ealing Southall CLP (constituency Labour party) elected a new treasurer and new auditors in 2018.
The ensuing audit discovered a number of irregularities, including an admission by the previous treasurer that he had written a cheque from CLP funds for the social event, following a request from Bell and without consultation with any other local party officers. The CLP had played no part in organising the event.
CLP sources allege that officers discovered safeguards over party funds had been bypassed, with the then-treasurer using a cheque book that held numerous cheques pre-signed by a second – and vulnerable – signatory. This second signatory had never been told that a cheque had been used to try and pay the banqueting bill incurred by Sharma and Bell.
The CLP received some funds as some cheques made out to the Ealing Southall Constituency party on the night of the event, but these did not cover the restaurant bill and officers complained that they were never asked if they wanted to be responsible for the event.
Because of additional problems identified, the bank refused to cash the cheque. After an investigation, the CLP’s General Committee voted in June 2019 not to pay the restaurant bill, as neither Bell nor Sharma have any authority over CLP funds. Sharma had previously told the CLP’s elected auditors in writing that the organisation of the social was nothing to do with him.
Sharma’s history with his CLP has been fraught with problems. Residents have protested for his removal and local members voted last year to ‘trigger’ the MP to begin a selection process for a potential replacement – but he was reprieved by the calling of a general election before the process was completed. Earlier in the year he had lost a no-confidence vote.
Bell was the target of a revolt by councillors over his housing arrangements and was censured by Labour’s local campaign forum (LCF) for his ‘insensitivity‘, ‘unseemly haste‘ and the ‘unnecessary hurt and anguish‘ caused in calling a by-election after the death of a local councillor.
The case has been issued in the county court and has yet to be decided so no legal liability has been established either way.
The SKWAWKBOX contacted Julian Bell and Virendra Sharma separately for comment. In a joint statement provided in response, the pair said:
It would not be appropriate for us to comment on this matter as it is currently the subject of court proceedings other than we wholly reject the claim.
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