Monday, February 26, 2018

News: Historic Rotherham building wrapped up in legal claim

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Progress on converting the historic Howard Building in Rotherham town centre looks unlikely anytime soon after a court injunction was granted that prevents its sale.

A tangled web of development and investment companies, and their directors, has been served with a freezing injunction with liquidator, Louise Brittain, alleging that money from investors has been wrongfully diverted to a number of companies.

The assets have been frozen as the liquidator of Absolute Living Developments hunts to recover money for investors and creditors left out of pocket when schemes failed to be completed, or in some cases, even started.

Revised plans to convert the Howard Building into self-contained studios and apartments were approved by the planning board at Rotherham Council in 2015.

With little evidence of the conversion into twelve, one bed apartments and 60 studio apartments at "Howard Residencies", the applicants, AVRO Developments headed into insolvency, with Rotherham Council leading the petition in 2015 to have the company wound up - likely to be for non-payment of business rates.

Suffering from vandalism, and damaged even before a fire last year, the prominent four storey building opened in the 1930's. It previously operated as part of the college and also housed the council's environmental health teams and a day nursery before being sold prior to going to auction in 2014.

Crown Union Ltd and DS7 Ltd submitted plans in 2016 to amend the scheme. A company called 2380 REVERSIONS LTD is now responsible for paying rates on the building.

Crown Union Ltd was dissolved last month although its website, complete with adverts for studio starter pads and 1-bedroom apartments for sale within Howard Residencies, remains online.

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AVRO, Crown Union Ltd, DS7 Ltd and 2380 REVERSIONS LTD all share directors and links to previous "dubious" property investment schemes where directors are alleged to have created companies to place assets beyond the reach of investors.

Rothbiz reported in 2016 how the Rotherham scheme is linked to Absolute Living Developments, Fresh Start Living and Empirical Property, all highlighted in the media as leaving buy-to-let investors out of pocket.

Court documents, seen by Rothbiz, show that the asset freeze explicitly states that 2380 Reversions Limited "must not in any way dispose of, deal with or diminish the value" of the Howard Building.

The documents add that 2380 Reversions Limited has assets of £1.65m with the interconnected parties having assets in the region of £74m, the liquidator claims.

Also in the documents, the liquidator highlights that millions of pounds were transferred to DS7 with £294,351 applied towards the purchase of the freehold of the Howard Building. It adds that the identity of the purchaser was unknown but the property is now registered to 2380 Reversions Limited.

This was repeated a number of times regarding properties across the North of England. With the same people, namely, Andrew John Camilleri and Charles Alexander Clunie Cunningham, acting as de facto / shadow directors of the companies, the claim is based around dishonesty and breaches of fiduciary duties.

The related parties are accused of involvement in incorporating companies "in order to give effect to a dishonest scheme designed by Mr Camilleri and Mr Cunningham to divert monies payable by investors ... thereby enabling those monies to be transferred to Mr Camilleri, Mr Cunningham and their associates whilst ensuring that the investors did not have any recourse."

Private prosecution was brought against Mr Camilleri, who was declared bankrupt in 2011. Andrew Marshall, partner at Edmonds Marshall McMahon, said: "This was an elaborate deception that Andrew Camilleri maintained in order to mislead his creditors to give himself a clean slate, leaving his creditors with a pittance."

Last month, Camilleri was unanimously convicted by a jury at Manchester Crown Court of making false representations in an Individual Voluntary Arrangement (IVA) proposal.

Further action is expected.

Images: Avro Developments / SY Fire & Rescue

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