Sanjiv Varma, who claimed to be a consultant to developer, Grosvenor Property Developers Ltd, has been found guilty of contempt in the High Court for failing to disclose assets and making false statements. The hearing was held via Skype.
Grosvenor Property Developers had planned to construct students flats within the shell of the Grosvenor Hotel in Bristol, a project the company claimed would be completed by September 2017. However, the company failed to secure planning permission for the hotel’s conversion into flats, or even to complete its purchase of the building from its owner, Earlcloud Ltd.
Despite this, Grosvenor Property Developers raised £7 million of funding for the project from 100 investors and took £50,000 in deposits from buyers of the apartments.
Grosvenor Property Developers Ltd has now been liquidated and the building project was never completed. The matter has been under investigation by liquidators for years, who brought the case to court in an attempt to recover missing funds.
Mr Varma claimed that £3.1 million of the money raised from investors went to his own company in Dubai in 2017 to safeguard investors’ money by purchasing diamonds and jewellery. However, there was no evidence that these had ever existed. He also failed to remember why he withdrew around £64,000 in cash in Dubai on one occasion and claimed to have lost over £8 million in property transactions in Dubai.
Mr Varma told the court that he was ‘living close to a pauper’ and blamed ongoing roadworks for the suspension of the Grosvenor Hotel project.
The judge said that: “This story as to the loss of his wealth is not true. What I am sure of is that Mr Varma has undisclosed assets.”
The Grosvenor Hotel
The 70-bedroom hotel was built in 1875 in an unusual, almost triangular, design. It was popular with monied travellers using the neighbouring Temple Meads railway station. The Grosvenor Hotel was one of the few buildings in central Bristol that survived the Blitz of World War Two. It closed as a hotel in the 1980s but continued to be used to provide rooms for homeless families until 1998.
The facade of the building is Grade II listed and the property has been an empty shell since the 1990s, primarily due to its location within a traffic island and the failure of three surrounding owners to agree on how the island site should be regenerated.
Since 2013, the Grosvenor Hotel has been covered in scaffolding and a shroud that made its unkempt appearance near invisible to casual passers-by. Bristol City Council has being trying to buy it since 2016 and has now approved a Compulsory Purchase Order on the property which it plans to redevelop it as part of the Temple Quarter business district.
Don’t get caught out when you invest money in buildings. Always take advice from a Chartered Surveyor when buying a new or old property.