The trustee of a charity was dismissed from a well-known Bradford law firm after it accused her of using the firm’s cash to bankroll her lifestyle and charitable work.
Ms Anjum Tahirkheli, 46, had presented a claim on August 15th 2012 that she had been unfairly dismissed from her position as financial director of Khan’s Solicitors in Sunbridge Road, Bradford, because the firm had failed to follow a fair procedure. She sought compensation for this.
On the first morning of the hearing on February 20th, Khan Solicitors accepted that the dismissal had been unfair because it had not followed any procedures at all before deciding to dismiss Ms Tahirkheli.
However, the tribunal went on to hear two days of evidence to decide that even if Khan’s had followed procedures, was their ousting of Ms Tahirkheli from the firm legally justified?
The panel heard that Khan’s was set up in 1997 with three partners Mohammed Sarwar Khan (Ms Tahirkheli’s now ex-husband), Rashid Majid and Arshad Ali Khan – who left the partnership in 1998.
From the firm’s inception Ms Tahirkheli was employed as the Office Manager.
When the firm was incorporated in 2008, Ms Tahirkheli was referred to as the Finance Director. In due course three further associates became directors and shareholders of the company.
In 2009, Ms Tahirkheli set up a charity, Basic Human Rights (BHR), which involved a lot of overseas travel. It was heard that in 2010 her marriage with Sarwar Khan came into difficulties and the couple obtained an Islamic divorce.
Though they reconciled for a time, in May 2012 the marital discord came to head over a dispute concerning BHR. From this point Ms Tahirkheli based herself at the charity’s offices, which were across the road from Khan’s solicitors buildings.
Rashid Majid told the tribunal that he began to investigate the accounts and bank statements after he got a call from HMRC for an overdue corporation tax bill of £60,000 for the year ending 31st March 2011.
Majid told the panel that he found numerous large payments leaving the office bank account, which he felt were unauthorised transactions and believed that Ms Tahirkheli was guilty of gross misconduct. The meeting to dismiss her as a company director took place in her absence on September 12th whilst Ms Tahirkheli was abroad.
The tribunal heard evidence from Mr Majid of a substantial number of allegedly unauthorised transactions. They included the withdrawal of £20,000 from the firm’s office account, several payments from the firm’s account made abroad through currency exchange companies – which the tribunal found was more likely to be related to Ms Tahirkheli’s overseas work with her charity and payments of up to £2,000 made from the firm’s bank account to her children.
In addition to the above, Ms Tahirkheli purchased a Range Rover in the name of the firm for £48,000 on June 1, 2012, to which the judge said she found it “simply incredible” that Ms Tahirkheli would have believed she had authorisation to do such a thing.
Judge Cox said the tribunal was satisfied the firm had reasonable grounds to believe Ms Tahirkheli was guilty of misconduct and said the panel was struck by how “complete was Mrs Tahirkheli’s refusal to accept she had acted in any way inappropriately in her administration of the firm’s affairs”.
The Tribunal found that Ms Tahirkheli to be “one of the most unreliable witnesses it has ever heard” and that a large proportion of the answers she gave during questioning, upon cross-examination were “evasive, unclear and self-contradictory.”
“She appeared to have no basic grasp of the need for integrity and accuracy in the firm’s accounts or, specifically, the need to draw a distinction between expenditure on the firm’s behalf and that on behalf of herself, her family and charitable interests,” Judge Cox said.
Mrs Tahirkheli alleged the reason she was dismissed was that the directors were conspiring to oust her husband, Mohammed Sarwar Khan, from the firm and needed to remove her.
But the tribunal said it was satisfied the reason the firm decided to dismiss her was its belief that she had been guilty of serious financial impropriety.
Responding to the Tribunal’s findings, a senior spokesman for Khan’s said an independent forensic accountant was going through the firm’s books and on completion of that report it would consider reporting the matter to police.
Anjum Tahirkheli speaking to the Asian Express has said that she will fight to clear her name and believes that casting her out from the company was a purposeful move by the other partners to ensure that she would have little or no financial gain from the ultimate settlement of her divorce with Sarwar Khan.