The unresponsive public contact with an opaque role at two Gerald Ronson charities

  1. New charity The Holocaust Memorial Charitable Trust (HMCT) has replaced its public contact after I first wrote about the organisation on 26 June 2019. Jeremy Trent has taken over from Neasa Coen, a solicitor at law firm Withers (screen shot in Figure 1). Mr Trent also performs the same role at charity The Gerald and Gail Ronson Family Foundation (GGRFF), again according to the Charity Commission public register of charities. Business leader Gerald Ronson is both chair of GGRFF and a trustee of HMCT. Despite being public contact for both charities, Mr Trent didn’t respond to emailed questions about his role at each. Here I show there’s an unacceptable lack of clarity and transparency around what exactly he’s doing for both.

    Figure 1. Contact details for charity The Holocaust Memorial Charitable Trust: Charity Commission website at 1 July 2019

  2. Accountant Mr Trent works for HW Fisher, a top 25 UK chartered accountancy firm, where he’s “a senior private client partner advising on all aspects of personal taxation” (screen shot in Figure 2). As you can see, his biography on the firm website says: Jeremy enjoys cycling and is treasurer of a major communal charity.” So Mr Trent doesn’t actually name the relevant charity.

    Figure 2. Jeremy Trent profile: HW Fisher website at 1 July 2019

  3. In his autobiography, “Gerald Ronson: Leading From the Front”, the business leader writes on p.238: “Jeremy Trent serves as treasurer [of The Gerald Ronson Foundation].” (screen shot in Figure 3) The Gerald Ronson Foundation is the old name of GGRFF.

    Figure 3. Jeremy Trent is “treasurer” of The Gerald Ronson Foundation (old name of The Gerald and Gail Ronson Family Foundation), says Gerald Ronson in his autobiography

  4. GGRFF accounts for the last five years, 2014-2018, are publicly available on the Charity Commission website. In three of the five sets of accounts, Mr Trent is named – but not as treasurer (2014, 2015, 2016). Rather, he’s identified as “secretary”. Meanwhile, all five sets of accounts state the charity has no employees.
  5. Which brings us to the disclosures therein relating to HW Fisher. For each of the last five years, Mr Trent‘s firm has been independent auditor. Each year, the audit was performed by Julian Challis, “joint senior partner” at HW Fisher. Each year, too, the audit fees were dwarfed by payments made to the firm for accountancy and other professional services. Last year, for example, HW Fisher received £12k for the audit, but raked in £75.3k for non-audit services.
  6. Auditor independence – or lack of it – has become a key issue of late after a series of high-profile accounting scandals. Auditors are bedevilled by conflicts of interest, actual, potential or perceived. Such conflicts can arise when audit firms, say, also carry out extra services for the same company. Which is the exact arrangement between GGRFF and HW Fisher. Here the risk of HW Fisher being conflicted this way is even higher because the non-audit fees are so large in relation to those for the audit.
  7. The association between Mr Trent and Mr Ronson is longstanding. What’s more, the HW Fisher man has even been a director of two of the business leader’s companies, GMR Capital Limited and Rontec Roadside Retail Limited. Although no longer a director of either, Mr Trent is a “person with significant control” of GMR Capital Limited, Companies House records show.
  8. The association between Mr Trent and Mr Ronson extends beyond the latter’s group of companies. The business leader has been a director of the corporate trustee of charity Community Security Trust (CST), Support Trustee Limited, since its incorporation on 7 May 2003. Meanwhile, the HW Fisher man became a director of the CST corporate trustee on 13 December 2009, resigning on 4 May 2017. Cosier still: grant-making charitable trust GGRFF has been a funder of CST for a long time.
  9. (CST has been given a dispensation by the Charity Commission from publishing the names of its trustees. Nevertheless it’s a matter of public record Support Trustee Limited is the corporate trustee. The directors of Support Trustee Limited are shown at Companies House.)
  10. The longstanding business relationship between Mr Trent and Mr Ronson is another potential threat to auditor independence (“self-review threat”). A self-review threat exists if the auditor is auditing his/her own work or work done by others in the same firm.
  11. There needs to be clarity and transparency around Mr Trent‘s role at Mr Ronson‘s eponymous charity. How much, if any, of the non-audit fees paid to HW Fisher by the charity are for services he himself provides? Because of the inadequate disclosure in the accounts, we simply don’t know. This is an important point, not least since all the GGRFF accounts for the last five years say the organisation doesn’t employ any staff.
  12. The public rightly expects charities to be transparent and accountable, as does regulator the Charity Commission. So it’s disappointing public contact Mr Trent didn’t respond to emails. Such conduct reflects badly on HW Fisher, too. What’s more, the commission itself uses the firm’s services. For example, the regulator appointed one of Mr Trent‘s colleagues, Brian Johnson, as interim manager, separately, to two linked military charities I exclusively exposed, Afghan Heroes and Support The Heroes (see 8 January 2018 post).
  13. As I say, HMCT is new: it was only registered as a charity on 30 January 2019. Nevertheless HMCT has already lost a trustee: Lady Jill Shaw Ruddock. Filings at Companies House show Lady Jill resigned as a director (trustee) on 19 June 2019, having only been appointed weeks earlier on 12 April 2019. I asked her in emails why she resigned. Unlike Mr Trent, Lady Jill did replybut didn’t answer the question.
  14. For many reasons, the proposed Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre in Victoria Tower Gardens, next to parliament in Westminster, is highly controversial (see 26 June 2019 post). Last year, GGRFF donated £5m to HMCT – and Mr Ronson is a trustee of both. Given links to the proposed memorial, both charities, which are related parties, warrant scrutiny. On 26 June 2019, I revealed the serious, if opaque, lobbying effort for the proposed development. As part of this, HMCT recently hired political lobbyist Newgate Communications. Not only is the new public contact for HMCT, who performs the same role for GGRFF, unresponsive. But his role at both charities is opaque. Such characteristics only exacerbate the reasonable perception of arrogance and disdain for the public that dogs both the proposed memorial and those, in and out of government, behind it.
  15. There’s no suggestion that anyone has done anything illegal.

Abbey King Khawaja vanishes from Imperial Corporate Capital PLC website

  1. What news of Abbey King Khawaja and Imperial Corporate Capital PLC (ICC)?
  2. I first wrote about the property developer and investor ICC on 21 March 2019, giving six reasons investors should avoid the firm. On 4 April 2019, I published its belated response to one of the concerns raised in the first post.
  3. On 24 May 2019, I received an email from Mr Khawaja, with the subject line in capitals: “FAKE NEWS BY DR ALEX MAY”. There he said: “Your recent fake and inaccurate blogs have resulted in damage to our business. I have lost my employment due to your fake news. You leave me with no option but to seek legal advice from reputable media lawyers to commence proceedings and claim substantial damages against you, word press [sic] and google [sic].”
  4. I then checked the ICC website: sure enough, Mr Khawaja had vanished, his photo and biography nowhere to be found.
  5. Meanwhile, at the same time I discovered Mr Khawaja had recently established the blog Abbey King Khawaja Esq at abbeykingkhawajaesq.blogspot.com. The post of 27 May 2019 states: “Abbey is presently a Senior [sic] advisor and Government Relations Officer with ICC PLC, a progressive property development company…” (screen shot in Figure 1).

    Figure 1. Abbey King Khawaja Esq blog: Mr Khawaja is working for ICC, says 27 May 2019 post

  6. That blog post claims Mr Khawaja is working for ICC. It was published after his email. So I asked by reply on 28 May 2019: “Which is correct, your email or yesterday’s blog post?”
  7. Mr Khawaja responded the same day: “I have been given notice by ICC PLC due to your negative and inaccurate blogs. Serious damage to my business reputation. You are responsible for this decision by ICC PLC.”
  8. I, too, went back the same day, beginning by noting his reference to my “inaccurate blogs”. I continued: “If there are any inaccuracies, I am and always have been happy to publish corrections and clarifications (see 6 August 2014 post, for example).” I requested Mr Khawaja report any alleged inaccuracies.
  9. In a concluding paragraph, I wrote: “Further, I am and always have been happy to publish a formal response from you, or anyone else for that matter (see 8 December 2015 post, for example). Alternatively or in addition, you can post a comment(s): the blog has always been open for comments.”
  10. At date of publication I haven’t received a response from Mr Khawaja to my last email. He hasn’t posted a comment(s), either.
  11. Besides the involvement of Mr Khawaja, another concern about ICC was the information on the firm website about Bobby Singh, “vice-chairman and founder” (see para 7 in 21 March 2019 post). Before my first post, Mr Singh boasted of having “held CEO positions for successful property companies such as Harwood Group”. As I wrote back then, Mr Singh is owner and sole director of Harwood Group Limited, which was incorporated on 26 June 2015. Its last publicly available accounts, for 2017, reveal the average number of employees during the year – er, one, as it was in 2016! I also reported both sets of accounts to date were submitted late, after Companies House began compulsory strike-off. Not a good sign. At date of publication the 2018 accounts are overdue: these were due by 31 March 2019. And, again, Companies House has initiated compulsory strike-off. Mr Singh now omits to mention Harwood Group on the ICC website (screen shot in Figure 2).

    Figure 2. Bobby Singh profile: ICC website at 2 July 2019

  12. Talking of late accounts, ICC itself was late filing its last accounts, for 2018. Also due by 31 March 2019, these were submitted on 11 June 2019. The independent auditor’s report includes a separate section entitled “Material Uncertainty Related to Going Concern”. Here the auditor concludes a “material uncertainty” exists that “may cast significant doubt” over ICC’s “ability to continue as a going concern”. The presence of this section indicates the auditor considers management have included adequate disclosures relating to the material uncertainty.
  13. I don’t know whether Mr Khawaja is involved with ICC any longer or not. Yes, at date of publication he remains absent from the firm website. But as my first post shows, ICC has made false and exaggerated claims. If Mr Khawaja no longer has a role there, why did he have one in the first place?