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A former leader of a major council who has been described as ‘one of the most recognisable faces in Welsh local Government’ is with others at the heart of a major police investigation into alleged bribery in a multi-million pound land deal, The Eye can exclusively reveal.
Meryl Gravell is an ex-leader of Carmarthenshire County Council and with her colleagues became a key figure in a huge £200 million regeneration scheme under investigation, called the Delta Lakes (Llanelli Wellness Village) City Deal which was being orchestrated by leading officials at Swansea University’s controversial School of Management.
We have disclosed that other individuals who are also being investigated, include the disgraced one-time Dean of the management school, Marc Clement, who was first suspended then sacked for “gross misconduct”, and the contentious ex-Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council, Mark James.
The ‘Wellness’ village land deal had laudable aims – to improve the health and wellbeing of people across the area, as well as creating 2,000 high-quality jobs and boosting the economy by £467 million over 15 years, and has been described by its backers as the “largest ever regeneration project in South West Wales”.
It has, though, been beset by controversy from the start, and The Eye showed how as well as Mrs Gravell, Mr James has an interesting past.
Anthony Barrett, the Assistant Auditor General for Wales and Appointed Auditor of Carmarthenshire County Council, issued a public interest report saying the authority had acted ‘unlawfully’ in indemnifying Mr James’ libel counter claim against the outraged blogger Jacqui Thompson.
In January 2014 he stated: “…it (the authority) was not authorised by statute..”.
But it appears negative headlines have continued to dog him and the others.
In the top-level inquiry now underway, South Wales Police have said the regional crime unit executed “a number of warrants as part of an investigation into alleged bribery offences”.
The searches were carried out by the Regional Organised Crime Unit Tarian and involved officers from South Wales, Dyfed Powys and Kent Police forces.
They followed a complaint from Swansea University to the Serious Fraud Office in late 2018 which was referred to the police.
A spokesperson said after the raids: “A number of documents and electronic equipment have been seized, which will now be subject to extensive examination.
“No arrests have been made, and the complex investigation remains ongoing.”
Swansea University had combined with Sterling Health Limited to raise an enormous amount of money for the ‘Wellness’ village project.
Sterling Health is registered in London, and its directors included Mrs Gravell, with the contentious scheme being heavily defended in an anonymous computer campaign at the management school during which another central figure was also named (soon to be identified by us) from the same firm.
We can disclose that a ‘striking off’ action for the company had to be suspended last month.
Mrs Gravell is also a director of Swansea Bay Futures Limited, where a fellow director is Professor Clement.
Yet this is not the first time that Swansea University has been at the centre of extraordinary headline-grabbing events.
The university’s management school employed on a contract, criminal Steve Chan.
Our journalists have shown that Chan was jailed for years in America after a massive fraud.
He had been imprisoned by a court in Boston for four years and three months, and ordered to pay millions of dollars in compensation.
Chan’s jail term was followed by three years of supervised release, after he admitted one count of conspiracy to commit fraud and one count of mail fraud – he was also ordered to pay restitution of $12,596,298.
But on March 1 2016 he had appeared as a panellist representing Swansea University at a St. David’s Day event in Brussels called ‘Digital Destination: Creating Value and Improving Lives’.
In the publicity before the conference, another disgraced executive, the one time Vice-Chancellor of Swansea University, who was also sacked for “gross misconduct”, Richard Davies, said: “The event in Brussels on St David’s Day emphasises both the importance of the agenda in the European context and the role played by Professor Steve Chan in this key sector”.
The promotion adds: “Swansea University is delighted that Professor Steve Chan will take a leadership role in driving the Big Data agenda forward for Swansea University’s School of Management.
“Professor Steve Chan is the Chair of the Cyber Analytics and Network/Relationship Science Centre at Swansea University and the Chair of Smarter Cities for a Safer Planet and the Internet of Things at Swansea University’s School of Management”.
Yet we were told by Swansea University our questions about Chan in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request had been refused on the grounds they were “vexatious”.
Four of the queries we asked in the FOIA were:
- What was the exact date that Professor Steve Chan of the School of Management registered for his Ph.D at Swansea University?
- What was the exact date that he undertook his viva voce examination for his Ph.D?
- Who were the members of his Ph.D viva committee (including external examiners)?
- Who approved the appointment of the supervisors for his Ph.D?
But the scandalous management school where Chan worked has made the news for other reasons too.
The former Dean, Nigel Piercy, left under a cloud after two turbulent years in charge, and contrary to convention, his death (which we first revealed) was not marked in traditional fashion by Swansea.
Professor Piercy quit after relentless pressure from The Eye, when he clashed repeatedly with staff, warned them the school was “not a rest home for refugees from the 1960s with their ponytails and tie-dyed T-shirts”, and described trade unionists as “unpleasant and grubby little people…usually distinguished only by their sad haircuts, grubby, chewed fingernails and failed careers”.
Now it seems the vast ‘Wellness’ village land deal could also be regarded as having failed.
The police are investigating and more will come out.
Our Editor Phil Parry’s memories of his extraordinary 35-year award-winning career in journalism as he was gripped by the incurable disabling condition Hereditary Spastic Paraplegia (HSP), have been released in a major new book ‘A GOOD STORY’. Order the book now!