The name-change of a multi-million pound development scheme in South Wales which is at the centre of a major police investigation into alleged bribery, has been slammed as “an attempt to clean up its image”, The Eye can reveal.
The £200 million ‘Llanelli Wellness and Life Science Village’ (Delta Lakes) project has been renamed as ‘Pentre Awel – Breezy/Windy Village’.
Yet the scheme has been at the heart of a huge probe into alleged bribery ever since a formal complaint was made by Swansea University (SU) to the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) in 2018, and at least eight addresses have been raided.
The former Vice Chancellor (VC) at SU, Richard Davies, along with one of his senior executives the Dean of his School of Management, Marc Clement, have been sacked for “gross misconduct”, and appeals against dismissal by other executives have been rejected.
Last year the police said their inquiry was focussing on the tendering process of the Wellness project.
But one senior Welsh figure told us: “This name-change is a complete nonsense. It is obviously an attempt to clean up its image because the police are investigating alleged bribery”.
A Welsh politician has publicly described it as a “disaster” and a “moronic re-branding”.
Dr Sian Caiach said ironically: “Its good to know that the disaster of the Wellness Project is to be covered up by moronic re-branding.
“‘Wellness’ was a little inappropriate for a heavily polluted brownfield site way out of town.
“Convenient for Lidl, but Pentre Awel – ‘Breezy Village’ – really?
“… Clearly the most important matter here is to disguise the past incompetence of (Carmarthenshire) County Council (CCC) and justify spending more of our money on an expensive project we cannot realistically afford!”.
At the end of April CCC was still proclaiming the importance of the huge scheme, with no mention of the alleged bribery probe underway.
It said: “Delta Lakes will provide a ‘world class’ Wellness and Life Science Village along the Llanelli coastline bringing together health, leisure, business and research.
“The largest ever regeneration project in South West Wales, it aims to improve the health and wellbeing of people across the region, creating around 2000 high quality, well paid jobs and boosting the economy by a staggering £467 million over 15 years.”
It seems the man behind the original scheme has gone from strength to strength too, despite the controversy.
Records at Companies House show that Professor Clement has established the firm Alpha Life Science Advisory Limited.
His former university, SU has said it was co-operating fully with the police, although it declined to comment.
The investigation comes after calls were made by a council opposition group leader for the Wales Audit Office (WAO) to investigate the scheme.
It formed part of the £1.3 billion Swansea Bay City Deal and was run in partnership with SU and Hywel Dda and Abertawe Bro Morgannwg health boards.
86 acres of land at Delta Lakes had planning permission and the giant scheme was to have included research and business development facilities, a state-of-the-art care home and assisted living and rehabilitation centre, outdoor leisure space, a wellness hotel, as well as a new leisure centre.
Chris Moore, the director of services at CCC said at one point “significant conversations” continued with an unnamed higher education partner to come on board with the project, and design work was progressing.
Mr Moore claimed that around 15 financial companies had been approached by the council about potential expressions of interest.
“There is some significant interest in the market, based on the business plan which has been put together by our financial analyst, with our assistance”, he said.
But the alleged bribery inquiry has now put a spanner in the works.
It emerged that properties in Swansea, Carmarthenshire and Kent were searched as part of the enormous continuing investigation.
South Wales Police said the regional crime unit executed “a number of warrants as part of an investigation into alleged bribery offences.
“Seven addresses in Swansea, Carmarthenshire, and Kent are being searched with the assistance of colleagues”
The searches involved officers from South Wales, Dyfed Powys and Kent Police forces.
A statement from SU made plain that senior executives were at the heart of the probe.
It stated baldly: “In September 2018, the University investigated a payment that had been made to Raymond Ciborowski (the University’s former Registrar) upon the termination of his employment.
“This investigation found that the agreement governing the termination of Raymond Ciborowski’s employment as Registrar contained irregular and inappropriate provisions.”
The statement continued: “… gains included salaries from future appointments and equity potentially worth millions of pounds.
“The evidence suggested that there were material and serious interests that should have been declared under the University’s policies and procedures”.
An earlier statement from SU’s ‘Associate Director Vice-Chancellor’s Office, Head of Legal and Compliance Services’ declared: “The matters under investigation are very serious.
“The University has invested a significant amount of resource investigating the alleged misconduct, as have the authorities.
“It is essential that nothing is done to undermine the on-going processes.
“They must be allowed to run their course without interference.”
The extraordinary investigation at SU was carried out as an astonishing and highly defamatory internal computer campaign by someone calling him or herself ‘Your friend’, was launched to undermine it, and which has been only partly covered by the mainstream media.
Part of one of the libellous gmail messages from ‘Your friend’ stated: “As your Institution’s suspensions farce continues through its eight(h) month, you may wish to reflect on the person responsible for it and the standard of professional conduct (he) deem(s) appropriate”.
The gmail included an official UK Government document naming another senior executive at SU, and added tendentiously: “Properly declaring interest to your employer and following the rules are important things; pity not everybody manages to do this”.
But this is not the first time that SU has made headlines and once more we have been alone in reporting the alarming details.
The Eye showed how the institution had employed a convicted fraudster called Steve Chan who used to work on a contract at the management school, and began after we had exclusively revealed that a previous Dean there accused of bullying had died.
We disclosed how Chan had been imprisoned for four years and three months, and ordered to pay millions of dollars in compensation.
His jail term imposed at Boston law courts 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.
We revealed that Chan had even represented the university in advising an international agency on the ways to combat fraud.
But university officials have been less keen than the anonymous campaigner to give The Eye information – this time about Chan’s background, and we have been told in the past our questions about him in a legal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request had been refused on the grounds they were “vexatious”.
The name-change of a controversial multi-million pound redevelopment scheme is also proving ‘vexatious’ to its critics.
Perhaps officials investigating alleged bribery are also concerned…
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If you need something to keep the children entertained during these uncertain times (in Welsh) try Ffwlbart Ffred about the amusing stories of Ffred and his pet.