Peter Virdee has several Rolls-Royce cars

One of Europe’s most wanted men was welcomed as a donor by the Conservatives and Labour despite being under investigation for bribery and fraud.

Peter Virdee, 48, also known as Hardip Singh, a property developer and solar energy entrepreneur, is suspected of giving more than £100,000 to the Conservatives and £2,000 to the Labour shadow minister Preet Gill MP.

He was given a jail sentence of three years and three months by a court in Frankfurt in December for his role in a £100 million international VAT fraud in Germany.

“At times,” the magazine Spiegel Online said, “Singh was one of the most wanted men in Europe.” Posters seeking him were displayed in ports and airports. Marius-Cristian Frunza, an expert witness in financial crime trials and author of the textbook Value Added Tax Fraud, estimated that part of the money Virdee paid to politicians “comes from the VAT fraud”.

Both parties carried on taking Virdee’s money even after he was arrested by Britain’s National Crime Agency (NCA) on suspicion of bribery and corruption and it told the High Court that he was willing to bribe politicians.

After he became a party donor, Virdee met the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh three times in a year. Frunza said being seen with royalty and government gave Virdee credibility abroad, allowing him to call himself a respected individual in his own country.

The case shows how easy it is for criminals to get close to leading MPs and to donate dirty money.

Virdee took part in a Commonwealth flag-flying day with Eric Pickles and Brandon Lewis

Susan Hawley, executive director of the Spotlight on Corruption campaign group, said: “The fact that a convicted fraudster under investigation by the NCA as well as German authorities could have become a donor to both the Conservatives and Labour, and get privileged access to government ministers and the royal family as a result, is a scandal. It is essential that this case acts as a wake-up call for radical reforms to the party donation regime.”

The House of Lords is today debating the Election Bill, which has an amendment that would introduce a “fit and proper test” for party donors, to check whether they are linked to corruption, fraud, money laundering, economic crime or activities that put the electoral process at risk.

A prominent Sikh activist, Virdee had multiple Rolls-Royces and a collection of number plates including the registration 51NGH, which once changed hands for a record £254,000. He has posed for photos with Rihanna, Al Pacino and Usain Bolt, and said the “maintenance of [an] image of success was paramount” for his business.

Virdee was first jailed in 1995: he was sentenced at Birmingham crown court to nine months for deception, attempted deception and theft.

Peter Virdee, photographed with Usain Bolt, said the “maintenance of [an] image of success was paramount” for his business

After donating to the Conservatives, ministers backed a Commonwealth flag-flying day promoted by his newly created, self-funded charity the Virdee Foundation. Eric Pickles, as communities secretary, and his junior Brandon Lewis, now Northern Ireland secretary, were photographed in Whitehall with Virdee unfurling a flag. Pickles was the prime minister’s anti-corruption champion from 2015 to 2017 and chairs the anti-sleaze advisory committee on business appointments.

Virdee was detained by police twice in 2017. He was held at Heathrow in January under a German warrant, accused of being a member of an organised international gang who had evaded €126 million (£104.8 million) in VAT in 2009-10 by exploiting weaknesses in the way carbon credits, a measure designed to tackle global warming, were traded.

He was arrested at home in London six months later by the NCA on suspicion of bribery and corruption of Commonwealth politicians. In May 2018, the High Court published transcripts of Virdee discussing potential gifts — including a car and a £2,000 watch — for ministers in Antigua and St Kitts, where his solar energy firm was seeking contracts.

The NCA, which is still investigating Virdee, told the court he had been ready and willing to pay bribes and had given at least one gift to a Caribbean politician. Virdee said he refused to pay bribes and that none was paid. The High Court said it inferred from the tapes that Virdee was willing in principle to make corrupt gifts and to pay bribes but felt that the Caribbean politicians were asking for too much. It upheld Virdee’s arrest as lawful.

Despite the British and German investigations, the Conservatives accepted £8,000 from another Virdee business — 3V International — in late 2018.

Gill, whose local party accepted £2,000 from Virdee’s business in 2019, risks being compromised, having taken money from a man under investigation for alleged bribery of Caribbean politicians. She is shadow international development minister responsible for relations with aid recipients such as Antigua, a role that gives her privileged access to leaders of developing countries who are potential witnesses in the investigation into Virdee.

The fraudster was at court in Germany to hear his sentence on six charges of aggravated tax evasion but is waiting to be taken into custody.

“The implementation of the sentence has not yet begun because the files of the criminal proceedings are still at the Frankfurt am Main regional court,” German prosecutors said yesterday. He has allegedly been seen at a Sikh temple in Notting Hill in recent weeks and his Instagram account suggests that he attended a concert this month at the Royal Albert Hall.

The Electoral Commission, which polices political donations, said the law did not require parties to conduct extra checks on donors or place any restrictions on how the funds donated were raised or obtained.

Hawley, of Spotlight on Corruption, said it was “extraordinary that political parties are not required to do proper checks on those they receive donations from. We need a ‘fit and proper person’ test for donors, as currently being asked for in the Lords as an amendment to the Election Bill, and we need parties to be subject to requirements to do proper anti-money-laundering checks on the source of wealth behind donations.”

A government spokesman said it rejected any suggestion of impropriety, adding: “The community-led campaign to fly Commonwealth flags on Commonwealth Day was backed by a wide range of organisations from across the world.”

The Tories appear to have misreported Virdee’s gifts, recording that the Conservative Party accepted two gifts totalling £62,000 from his property business B&S Properties (London) in 2011 and 2013. It registered £36,000 in three donations in 2013 and 2014 from B&S Property, an unrelated business with a similar name to Virdee’s.

When a director of B&S Property, Clive Swainsbury, 67, a retired vet of Bishop’s Stortford, Hertfordshire, was told by The Times that the Tories had reported his business as a donor, he said: “I’m flabbergasted — as a member of the Labour Party.” The Conservative Party said its donations “are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, openly published by them, and comply fully with the law”.

Gill’s local party took cash from 3V International on the day Virdee, who had owned the company for 18 years, transferred all his shares to his wife, Kirenjeet “Kiren” Kaur.

The constituency Labour Party in Gill’s Birmingham Edgbaston seat was paid £2,000 shortly before the 2019 general election. Labour said: “All donations have been vetted and declared in the proper way. Preet Gill has acted appropriately throughout.”

Buckingham Palace said: “Members of the royal family frequently meet guests at official engagements at the request of participating organisations.”

Here was a man with a fleet of prestige cars who declared that maintaining an “image of success was paramount”, posted online photos of himself meeting the Queen and had an unfortunate habit of being arrested.

“The saying, ‘You can tell a man by his shoes’, well I believe the same is for a watch,” he once told an interviewer for a glossy magazine while musing on his penchant for limited-edition time-pieces, luxury cars, old masters and fine clothes. He relished being seen with VIPs, uploading pictures to Instagram of himself with Margaret Thatcher, Imran Khan, Chris Eubank and Naomi Campbell. He featured in a rap video with a private jet and his Rolls-Royce.

Virdee variously claims that he had a humble beginning in Birmingham, the child of parents who had brought only £3 with them from India, but also that his generous father bought him all the French and Italian designer clothes that he wanted. He was once manager of a care home but moved into property and claimed to control assets worth £5 billion.

He has a four-storey townhouse, bought for £2.6 million in 2006, in Bayswater, near Hyde Park, and had an office in London’s Mayfair.

The root of his wealth is uncertain but he was given a jail sentence in Germany for his role in a carbon-trading fraud that involved claiming back unpaid VAT. It cost the German treasury about €125 million. The money he gave to British political parties must be regarded as tainted.

Even more disturbing are phone conversations, bugged by German investigators, in which he was overheard discussing bribes for Commonwealth politicians. Virdee was trying to win contracts for his solar energy business. He was recorded saying that when the energy minister of Antigua asked him for a car, he replied “We will buy you a car” but then lost patience and swore at the politician. Virdee also said he was going to Selfridges to hunt for a £2,000 watch for the prime minister of St Kitts and Nevis. The Germans passed the evidence to Britain’s National Crime Agency, which launched an investigation.

A business founded by Virdee gave £2,000 to the Birmingham constituency Labour Party of Preet Gill, the first woman Sikh MP. Gill and Virdee, both 49, have known each other since their youth. They were reunited, after 24 years apart, at an event in parliament in 2013. When Gill was a local councillor, she once tweeted: “@petervirdee chauffeured in a rolls!! @rollsroycecars #thewaytodoit.”

After Gill was elected to parliament, Virdee posed for a picture with her in a public lounge at the Dorchester. Gill spoke at the London launch by Virdee in June 2019 of a trust to promote religious tourism to Sikh temples in Pakistan. Labour sources said she gave no endorsement of any scheme. The press conference was jointly hosted by Zulfi Bukhari, Imran Khan’s special assistant for overseas Pakistanis. Virdee and Bukhari had entertained Khan at a dinner in London a few years earlier to raise money for a college founded by the former cricketer, now Pakistan’s prime minister.

In Pakistan it was reported that Virdee announced his trust was launched with £500 million from his charity and other businesspeople. Yet Companies House records indicate the trust had no money and is being wound up.

Virdee’s self-funded charity the Virdee Foundation once sponsored a Commonwealth flag-flying day. He was invited to official events with the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh. He met them three times in a year: at Commonwealth Day celebrations in Marlborough House in March 2013 and March 2014, and in Buckingham Palace for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Trust reception in October 2013.

In his online profile, Virdee made false claims about his trusted status in society. He described himself as a board member and the first Sikh patron of English National Opera. ENO told The Times that he was never on the board and was not the first Sikh patron.

Virdee claimed to be a patron of the NSPCC, which the charity denies, saying he had no official or formal role. He donated to its Full Stop Appeal, which ended in 2009, but donors were described as “patrons” of the appeal.

The only person who ever questioned Virdee’s cynicism and materialism was Judge Cowell in the Central London county court in 2012. Virdee was seeking to claim back £92,000 he had spent mostly on hiring a Rolls-Royce as replacement for his company Rolls, which was dented in an accident. He said he needed the hired Rolls to impress millionaire clients because “maintenance of image of success was paramount”. Cowell said that showed “the warped values of society”.


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Does he want to enroll himself into politics or what?