Friday 26 July 2019

Wellness scandal; University pair sacked for gross misconduct - updated - Police raids

Later post 10th August;

Mark James' home raided by police 

Update 1st August; 

Police have confirmed this morning that their bribery and fraud investigation centres around the tendering process carried out in respect of the proposed Wellness Village. No real surprise.

So there we are. With the locations of the raids being in Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Kent it it all fell together, and we all know which former CEO was behind that tendering process...if you could call it that (see main post below).

The police will not yet confirm which addresses have been raided, but we know that three of them were in Carmarthenshire...

Update 31st July;

Wales Online reports that police officers from Tarian, the regional organised crime unit, have searched eight addresses this morning in Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Kent in relation to the bribery investigation. Four of the premises searched were in the South Wales Police force area, three were in Dyfed-Powys and one was in Kent. They've issued this statement;

"Officers from Tarian, the Regional Organised Crime Unit (ROCU) for southern Wales, have this morning executed a number of warrants as part of investigation into alleged bribery offences.

"Seven addresses in Swansea, Carmarthenshire, and Kent are being searched with the assistance of colleagues from South Wales, Dyfed Powys and Kent police forces.

"The enforcement action was carried out in relation to a complaint made by Swansea University to the Serious Fraud Office in late 2018, which was subsequently referred to police.

"No arrests have been made during the searches, however a number of documents and electronic equipment have been seized.  The investigation is complex and remains ongoing."

I sincerely hope they've been knocking at a certain ex-CEO's door in Wellfield Road, Carmarthen. If not then it should be their very next stop.

* * *

WalesOnline report today that Swansea University's suspended Vice-Chancellor Richard Davies and Prof Marc Clement have both been sacked with immediate effect for gross misconduct. This follows several months of internal investigations relating to the Wellness and Kuwait scandals.

"It is understood that their suspensions were linked to the proposed £200m Life Science and Wellness Village project at Llanelli, the first business case and funding model for which was seeking £40m in backing from the £1.3bn City Deal for the Swansea Bay City Region...

The architects for that project were Prof Clement and Mark James, who last month stood down as chief executive of Carmarthenshire County Council.

A further part of the investigation that lead to their suspensions and now dismissals was a proposed £600m joint venture for a new university and private hospital in Kuwait, involving Swansea University.

That project, in which Prof Clement was identified as being vice chancellor of the university element, was never disclosed to the university’s governing body in its council. Prof Richard B Davies and the former chief executive of Carmarthenshire Council were listed as trustees of the project’s academic board" (Wales Online)

As I said here, the police, and the organised crime squad are also investigating.

As I've said, more than once, the above-mentioned Mark James is also deeply involved. He has lied and blagged his way through this whole sorry scandal.

He oversaw the appointment of Franz Dickmann's Sterling Health, the sole bidder and a company with no track record and £137k in the red, to develop the project. The same outfit he'd already given a secret 'exclusivity agreement' to the year before when they were known as Kent Neurosciences (KNS). Marc Clement had been a director of Kent Neurosciences until a few months before Marky signed them up. As KNS, they had been involved in developing a private hospital in Kent which required a £20m bail out before they scarpered.

L to R; Mrs Dickmann, Mark James, Richard Davies, Emlyn Dole, Franz Dickmann, Marc Clement. Another key player in this scandal from the start was Mark James' number one fan, former council leader Meryl Gravell, who was, curiously, made a director of Sterling until just before they were ditched.

Mark James then becomes involved in the Kuwait scandal as a 'trustee'. This never appeared as a declaration of interest despite the potential involvement of the council. Nor did he ever bother, for that matter, to declare his own extensive property and business interests.

When the s***t began to hit the fan Mark James not only decided to retire but ordered a 'review of the council's procurement process'. And who did he bring in to carry out this little task? A firm of solicitors called Acuity Law who also just happened to be his own personal lawyers. They were, quite simply, providing him with a pre-emptive defence funded by the council.

The City Deal internal governance report was less sympathetic and, thanks to the behaviour of Mark James, Carmarthenshire was stripped of responsibility for governance and audit. The chair of the health board went one further and called him out for what he really was, a compulsive liar without a shred of integrity.

I have been researching and writing about all this for over three years, so as usual, there is plenty of background on the blog if you wish to search. Remember as well that Mr James was also involved in his own tax avoidance scandal, let alone the illegal libel indemnity. Tens of thousands he never paid back. He's used council resources for his own personal interests, and breached a serious undertaking to the council, his employers, over the indemnity, all without a care in the world. When it comes to personal enrichment, he's capable of anything.
He's carried on like this since Boston.

He was, and no doubt still is, a malicious and vindictive bully, a liar, and a thoroughly disreputable character, but for the purposes of the current scandal he should be subject to a full criminal investigation and forensic examination of his affairs. He has been involved from the very beginning.

He can't be sacked or suspended now, he's made sure of that...but he can most definitely be bundled into the back of a police car and hauled off for questioning. 

Tuesday 16 July 2019

The 'potentially defamatory' letter; Mark James threatened the Carmarthenshire Herald

Back in April, as I reported here, the Chair of the then ABMU Health Board Andrew Davies wrote an explosive letter to the Chair of the City Deal Joint Committee concerning the integrity, or lack thereof, of Mark James CBE.

The contents of the letter was considered, by 'the council', as being 'potentially defamatory', and public noises were made about suing Andrew Davies. In reality of course it was Mr James, the royal 'we', who considered the letter to be 'potentially defamatory' of himself.

As councils cannot sue for defamation, this raised some interesting questions as to who 'we' were and brought us full circle back to the issue of unlawful public funding for an individual officer to bring a claim for libel, or, getting round the rule that a council can't sue.

Last month I asked, through FOI, under whose or what authority the threatening legal statement was issued.

The response, which arrived this morning, discloses one brief email thread (extract below) which confirms, if nothing else, that the threat came directly from the council keyboard of Mark James himself and, furthermore, he also threatened the Carmarthenshire Herald, using the press office to deliver the statement below.

It is perhaps quite fitting that the death throes of the Mark James regime were marked by a direct threat to sue and silence a local newspaper.
The only contact with elected members was that Plaid Cymru council leader Emlyn Dole was cc'd into the emails.

The email thread (which can be seen here in full) was in response to a detailed press enquiry by The Herald, which was also disclosed.
The council claimed in their FOI response to me that this email thread was the only relevant information they held.

Being a little cynical that this was the case, I approached The Herald, who were surprised that the email trail which had been disclosed did not include all of the emails passing between the paper and the Council, which included an offer of a right to reply which was refused and which responded robustly to the suggestion that coverage would be 'potentially defamatory'.

So, the information released under FOI was sparse and incomplete, deliberately so. One sincerely hopes that they didn't consult the now retired Mr James over this disclosure...)

It comes as no surprise of course that the temper tantrum displayed over this letter, and the assumption that the council would, potentially, deploy the slush fund and sue, came straight from Mr James. He was too cross to even bother with a spellcheck.

As for being 'potentially defamatory', this would not be the case as the factual content of the letter was substantially true, Mr James is a liar, and as for his failure to adhere to any of the seven Nolan principles, this was opinion, and, for that matter, spot on.

The council have since been stripped of City Deal governance and audit responsibilities and the police are investigating the Wellness scandal.

The email from Mr James also refers to the letter as 'private correspondence'. This is laughable given that it was from the head of one public body to another relating to public governance and expenditure.

He had a somewhat different attitude towards 'leaks' when 'Emlyn Dole's' response to the letter, and for that matter the sham Acuity Law report found their way to the Western Mail....

This is all from someone who stated in May that he stopped reading and bothering with pesky newspapers some years ago...

The key question, which was who the 'we' was, and the point about his interest being as an individual was never answered.  My own correspondence with Linda Rees Jones about the matter saw her reconfirm her nonsense that to use public money to sue, or threaten to sue was perfectly fine, and as we saw with their attempt to reinstate the illegal libel clause last year, this is a tactic fully endorsed by Emlyn Dole, and presumably the Plaid Cymru group he leads, as well.

Even against a local newspaper.

The 'suspended' clause must now be urgently removed as it is clear that the 'suspension' meant nothing to Mr James, nor Legal Linda, nor the Rev Dole. Neither is it a comforting thought that the new CEO Wendy Walters was a passive bystander in the email thread.
Whether the 'council's' legal threat against the newspaper was carried out or not is not important, it's the chilling effect that counts. 

Thursday 11 July 2019

Organised Crime Unit investigate Wellness allegations

Later post 10th August; Mark James' home raided by organised crime squad

Later post 31st July; Wellness scandal - University pair sacked, and police raids

Wales Online reports today that the Swansea University suspensions and allegations relating to the Council's Wellness Village and the Kuwait venture, are now also being considered by the Regional Organised Crime Unit, "dedicated to disrupting and dismantling Serious Organised Crime Groups across the whole of southern Wales".

The allegations were referred to South Wales and Dyfed Powys Police by the University in February (see update to my February post here).

Both police forces have issued this statement;

"Dyfed-Powys Police and South Wales Police can confirm that they have received a complaint which is currently subject of consideration by both forces, as well as Tarian, the Regional Organised Crime Unit for southern Wales. 
"Due to the complex nature of the complaint the matter remains under review."

This police and organised crime unit investigation must include Mark James, former Carmarthenshire Council CEO. As I have set out on this blog, numerous times, he has been associated and involved from the outset with the tangled web of self-interest and the key players in this scandal, he was behind the notoriously shady deals with KNS/Sterling, and the undeclared Kuwait venture.

It's time he had his collar felt. In fact, it's long overdue.

His retirement from the council was, shall we say, timely, and, incidentally, three months before his tenure as City Deal lead CEO was up.

And, as of the 8th July, he has resigned as a Director of Trinity St David University.....Interesting.

Tarian - Regional Organised Crime Unit.
"..from fraud and cyber-crime investigators to asset recovery experts and intelligence specialists...dedicated to disrupting and dismantling Serious Organised Crime Groups across the whole of southern Wales"

For background, please use the searchbox on the right to search this blog. There is plenty.

Tuesday 9 July 2019

No call-in for the Wellness planning application

After six months the Welsh government have decided not to call in the Wellness planning application but to let the council determine it themselves. As one of the people who requested the call-in, and attended the planning committee meeting in January, I received the decision letter yesterday. The WG have decided that it doesn't raise issues of wider importance and, presumably, the very belated contamination testing, from fridges to arsenic, going on at the site (and beyond) tick some of NRW's concerns. Apparently the water table is also much higher than previously thought.
However, the growing of vegetables at the site, even Wellness vegetables, might not be such a good idea....

The letter makes clear that the WG is making no comment on the merits of the application; "the decision not to call in the application should not in any way be taken as a reflection on the planning merits of the development".
There were, of course, other issues raised aside from the environmental impact which has put a stop to the project, namely the scandal with Sterling (now dissolved), the Uni and a certain ex-senior officer, and the small matter of a police investigation, which seems to have escalated. But these are not material planning considerations.

Incidentally, Plaid Cllr Alun Lenny has put forward a Motion for tomorrow's full council to boost TAN 20 planning guidance and ensure that Welsh language impact reports are designated material planning considerations and required for developments over a certain size. I find it odd that the Wellness application, heartily endorsed by Cllr Lenny and Co contains no more than a nod to the language, let alone a report under TAN 20.

Anyway, back to the swamp, and I would imagine that the timing of the WG decision was entirely coincidental to the recent retirement of Mr James...and the slightly scaled back 'new designs' trumpeted by Cllr Dole last week. Interestingly, this appeared to be the planned 'rebranding' tactic to lessen the reputational damage that the scandal ridden project has enjoyed. Putting lipstick on a pig.

And would Ministers really want to get involved and tainted with the ongoing scandals? They may also be hoping that the new CEO has a better working and planning ethic than the previous one. Just 'ethics' would be a start.

The 'new designs' also suggest that a new planning application should be put forward, or at least an amended version of the original. I doubt this will happen though and I'm sure the rubber stamp will be wielded post haste.

Unless the council decide to 'go it alone' (despite being already £413m in debt), or just stick to the leisure centre and care home, an amended business case will also be resubmitted to the City Deal joint committee. There is currently no clue where the £127m of private money will come from, Swansea Uni is out of the picture and Trinity St David is shedding jobs to break even. Whatever happens, this time the whole process must be transparent and the business case made public, as recommended by the internal governance review.

It's been a shambles from the start thanks to the dire governance under Mark James and former City Deal monitoring officer Linda Rees Jones. And, as for the other issues, I trust the police are closing in. The council have one more chance to start from scratch and get this right and ensure that this doesn't become another disastrous legacy courtesy of Mr James.
I also suspect he's still pulling the strings.

I have written extensively about this project and, unless everything is now above board and open to scrutiny, and will benefit the many, not a handful of conmen, then I expect I'll still be writing about it in five years time, accompanied, likely as not, by the usual damning audit report.


On the subject of transparency, the FOI department appear to have gone into shutdown mode, towards me anyhow. Maybe their resources have been redirected to the press office again, the two are very intertwined. I have recently made a few requests which are now over the time limit, including one about the letter from the health board Chair concerning the inability of our former CEO to abide by any of the Nolan Principles...
There was nothing terribly complex in my requests and I don't expect information which is not available. This painful and slow process is so often the only way to extract information from the council, it's a shambles.

I will be writing, in due course, to the new chief executive about that suspended, unlawful libel clause. I will be interested to find out whether she approves of her new found potential power to illegally sue critics with public money, or if she finds it all a bit iffy. This is yet another appalling legacy from Mark James for which, amongst other things, I am determined he will be held to account.

The clause is suspended at the moment but the Mark James Fan club, ie Emlyn 'two barns' Dole and Linda Rees Jones are very keen to reinstate the provision and extend it to cover councillors. It can't remain suspended forever (can it??) so I will be curious to hear Ms Walters' views on the matter, and the complete removal from the Constitution. Though, as a long term deputy of Mr James, who was allowed to scarper with his ill-gotten gains, I'd be surprised if her view was any different.

We'll see.

For background to all of the above, please search this blog