The chief executive of a human rights charity was fired from a Bradford law firm after it accused her of using the firm’s cash to bankroll her lifestyle and charitable work, an employment tribunal heard.
The panel ruled that mother-of-four Anjum Tahirkheli, 46, was 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.
But Employment Judge Susan Cox, in a scathing judgement following a two-day tribunal hearing, found it would not be “just and equitable” to award her a penny in compensation for loss of earnings saying she was the “author of her own downfall”.
The judge described Mrs Tahirkheli, who is the head of Bradford-based charity Basic Human Rights which provides overseas aid to victims of floods and war, as “one of the most unreliable witnesses it has ever heard” and was “evasive, unclear and self-contradictory”.
Judge Cox said the tribunal was satisfied the firm had reasonable grounds to believe she 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”.
“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.
Yesterday Mrs Tahirkheli, of Ilkley, described the judgement as “perverse” and said she was instructing London counsel to appeal the findings and she challenged the law firm to report the matter to police.
In an eight-page written judgement, Judge Cox said Mrs Tahirkheli, who was married to one of the law firm’s partners, was employed as office manager, but was later referred to as the finance director and was responsible for the administration of the firm’s accounts and was a signatory to the firm’s cheques.
The judgement said that, in July 2012, a director of the firm, Rashid Majid, looked through bank statements and saw numerous large payments leaving the office account for which he could not see a ready explanation.
The judgement went on: “Mr Majid’s enquiries led him to believe that Mrs Tahirkheli had been guilty of gross misconduct, including transferring money out of the firm’s office account without authority; withdrawing money for personal or charity expenditure and recording it as office expenditure; and sending money abroad without the other directors’ approval or knowledge.”
In September 2012, Mrs Tahirkheli was removed from the board with immediate effect. She was given no notice of the meeting. The firm wrote to inform her she had been dismissed “because of serious financial irregularities amounting to gross misconduct.”
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.
The tribunal heard evidence from Mr Majid of a substantial number of allegedly unauthorised transactions.
- 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 Mrs Tahirkheli’s overseas work with her charity;
- payments of up to £2,000 made from the firm’s bank account to her children;
- and the purchase of a Range Rover in the name of the firm for £48,000 on June 1, 2012, which the judge described as “simply incredible that she had, or believed she had, authorisation to do so”.
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.
The spokesman added: “We are pleased the Employment Tribunal confirmed that Mrs Tahirkheli was dismissed for gross misconduct and awarded her no compensation, despite our acceptance we could have followed a better procedure.
“This is the second step in recovering our losses. The company has already succeeded in obtaining an injunction to return company property and this new judgement enhances our position.
'I will fight to clear my name' says Mrs Tahirkheli
Anjum Tahirkheli said last night she was determined to clear her name.
“I am instructing Queen’s Counsel in London to appeal this judgement, which is perverse,” she said.
“One of the grounds of appeal will be that it was an unfair trial. It was untruthful, ill-founded and there was no evidence to come to its conclusions.
“I was not the financial director. I was never the financial director. I wasn’t the cashier. At best, my involvement with the firm’s finances was periphery. The Law Society only allows partners who are qualified solicitors to sign off the accounts. I was the corporate responsibility person. I dealt with human resources and complaints.
“It’s a family-run business. We owned it. This was not public money. I was an employee and wife of the senior partner. I was authorised to transfer money. That money was coming from my husband’s earnings.
“These allegations have brought my integrity into question. They have damaged the charity. I have not been fundraising because of this. It is sad.
“Justice will prevail. I want to clear my name. I am absolutely not guilty of any financial impropriety. The police have not been involved at any stage. I challenge the company to contact the police if they think I have committed serious impropriety.
“If there has been misappropriation of funds, that is theft. If I have stolen money, that is theft. I challenge them to report me to the police and get them to investigate me – because it is absolute rubbish and there isn’t anything to investigate.”