An accountant from Harrow has been given a suspended sentence after receiving £9,000 from a third party and his employer to make political donations to a Conservative party candidate
Sharad Bhimjiyani, 68, is a director of RSB Accountancy Services and in 2014, he enlisted the help of family and clients to make donations to a local councillor to support his candidacy as an MP.
The guilty plea, heard at Warwick Crown Court, related to six donations of £1,500 made in 2014 to David Mackintosh, the Conservative party parliamentary candidate for Northampton South. Mackintosh was elected as an MP in 2015 but stood down two years later.
The amount of the payments was significant as donations to registered political parties above £1,500 are published on the website of the Electoral Commission, allowing greater public scrutiny.
In the case of each of the donations made, the payments to RSB Accountancy Services were in fact derived from funds provided by Howard Grossman, acting through his company, 1st Land Limited, a Northampton based property developer.
Grossman made a payment of £16,500 to the accountancy firm on 22 May 2014, for which an invoice had been raised for ‘continuing services relating to the Northampton Project – fees as agreed’. A further payment of £2,000 was also made in July 2014.
Grossman had wanted to make donations to Mackintosh’s parliamentary election campaign but there was a concern that, given his business links with Northampton Town Football Club, the donations should not be seen to come from him directly.
In total Grossman made donations amounting to £39,000 using the accountancy firm as a go-between for the £9,500 as well as funnelling payments of £30,000 through three other individuals who were all given suspended sentences at earlier trials.
As well as running his own accountancy practice, Bhimjiyani also worked for Grossman as his bookkeeper and financial controller of County Group, the umbrella company for Grossman’s business interests.
The judge Mrs Justic Eady DBE accepted that Bhimjiyani ‘did not consider you were doing anything criminal and considered that you were doing a favour for your employer, having been told there was “nothing to declare”’.
She added that ‘alarm bells should have been ringing in your mind might particularly be expected given your work as a bookkeeper, who has operated in business providing accountancy services’.
‘Given the role you played, I consider that you are to be assessed as having a medium level of culpability in respect of this offending,’ she said.
The maximum sentence available was 15 weeks but after reviewing the circumstances, pre-sentence report and personal mitigation, the decision was taken to hand down a suspended sentence.
‘I accept that this offending is out of character and that your lack of judgement is something that you very genuinely regret,’ the Judge said.
‘I consider that a ten-week term is the shortest that would be commensurate with the seriousness of this offence. I have, however, also concluded that this term should be suspended for a period of eight months. The suspension of the custodial term reflects the length of time you have had this matter hanging over you and the impact that this has obviously had on you, including on your health; it also reflects your strong personal mitigation.’