Former Ujima boss in court as £3.5m trial begins
The former chief executive of Ujima Housing Association, Keith Kerr, has appeared in Southwark Crown Court, charged with three counts, ‘a theft, a fraud and a forgery’ amounting to £3.5 million.
Mr Kerr was charged alongside Alan Boswell and Gregory Causer, respectively the managing director and company secretary of maintenance firm FWA West.
The court heard that in April 2007, Ujima and FWA set up a joint venture company called Ujima Maintenance Services to maintain the association’s 4,000-5,000 homes.
In his opening speech, the prosecution barrister Richard Milne QC laid out the three counts.
‘£350,000 was simply taken out of UMS, the Crown will say, there was no basis whatsoever for removing £350,000, it was stolen,’ Mr Milne said. Mr Causer signed a check from UMS to FWA, he said, in July 2007, adding that the defence is likely to argue this was a loan.
‘There was no documentation, no terms, no rates of interest… none of the senior executive officers at Ujima approved the loan,’ Mr Milne said.
Counts two and three involve forging a document and using that document in negotiations with London & Quadrant, the housing association which took over Ujima on 16 January 2008, after Ujima ran into financial problems.
When UMS was set up in April 2007, the agreement was for profits to be split between the association and contractor after a year. Mr Milne said the three defendants forged a document – signed by Mr Kerr and Mr Boswell – saying that profits from UMS could be shared after six months.
The letter was dated 25 November, but the police investigation found an electronic copy, which showed ‘it had been created on 30 November’. Mr Milne said that the defence is likely to argue that on 25 September, Mr Kerr and Mr Boswell went to a Reading versus Liverpool match and formed ‘a spit and shake oral agreement at half time that fundamentally changed when profits could be drawn down’ from UMS. ‘It was reduced to writing some time after 30 November 2007.’
On 13 November, the Ujima board had ‘purportedly suspended’ Mr Kerr, he said, meaning ‘Mr Kerr had no basis, we may conclude, in signing that document’.
On the basis of the letter, four payments were made from UMS to FWA, the Crown said, from 3 December 2007 to 29 February 2008, totalling £601,000.
The case is expected to continue for around two months.