Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report


This is a statement by Rita Gloria Gresty dictated to Eileen Eggington QPM on 23 March 2001

In either late 1999 or early 2000, when I was working as PA to Maria Fernandes, I was directed by Maria to renew ***'s passport—it was a British passport. I think her first name was S. I should think she was late 50's, early 60's, but I remember thinking she looked well preserved for her age. From her photograph she looked distinguished and well dressed. The form was brought into the Harrow office by "M", a manservant of the Hinduja family. I put a cross in pencil against the questions to be answered, and gave it to Maria to complete. I think I put it in the post and sent it to New Zealand House, where the Hindujas offices are. Once Mrs *** had signed it, the form would have come back to Maria. I cannot remember if M brought it or if it arrived in the post. I expect Murali brought it back because he was like a weekly messenger. He sometimes came by chauffeur driven car. I know that he was well respected in the Hinduja household. He was like their private secretary. He is of small stature, quietly spoken and very polite. He is Indian obviously.

I worked as Maria's PA from August 1998 until May 2000. Our office was at her *** home until September 1999. I was aware of the Hindujas from the start. They were always showering Keith and Maria with invitations. I can remember the name Gopal Hinduja. I never met him or his family but I spoke to, I believe, Gopal Hinduja on a number of occasions. This was to put him through to Maria. She would always take his calls straight away, even if she was meeting with a client. The only other person, apart from Keith, who she would accept calls from straight away, was a millionaire called EM, a South American who lived in London. His wife, a millionairess in her own right, got Maria to help her get British passports for EM and herself—I think her name was MM, also British passports for their two young children and Spanish speaking female servant. I believe they were all from Bolivia. Maria managed to hurry up the applications because she is a member of the IND User Panel at the Whitgift Centre in Croydon. She sent faxes and made numerous telephone calls to a couple of male senior officers in the Investigation Services, who would have been serving with her on the IND Panel. She got the passports within 2-3 weeks—I know it was really quickly because they wanted to go on holiday to the USA for Christmas 1999. They did just make it on time. I remember Maria charged them £5,000 plus VAT for expediting the applications. EM sent me a lovely travel wallet from Harrods as a Christmas thank you present. I remember that Maria wrote an accompanying letter with the applications stating that theirs was a special case because their significant wealth contributed to the British economy. She subsequently managed to track down by phone the Immigration Services official who would be making the decision. I do not know his name but he gave her his decision on the phone. EM went to the Croydon office and was handed the passports by a named female official. I cannot remember her name.

Returning to ***'s passport renewal application. I remember M phoned and asked why it was taking so long. I think I phoned the normal enquiry number and was told what the time frame for applications was. I can't remember how long, but I told Maria and I think she got on the phone to speak to a contact. I do not know who. The passport came through in the post fairly speedily afterwards. I think the whole process took about three weeks, which is quite quick.

Soon after that M brought a visa application to the office for a lady servant of the Hindujas. I cannot remember anything about her. Either Maria or I filled in the form. I think Mrs *** had to sign it as a sponsor. We sent it off to the Immigration Service. It was returned quite swiftly, probably within a month.

I think it was the beginning of 2000, Maria managed to get a visa for a computer boffin who worked for, I think, Gopal Hinduja. It came through quite swiftly and this guy asked Maria about getting visas for his wife and a servant to follow here. I cannot remember his name. He is Indian, probably in his 40's. Maria gave him written advice, which included the need for him to return to India to get a stamp in his wife's and servant's passport from the British Embassy, probably in Delhi or Calcutta. Maria heard no more and therefore did not bill him. Then, later, she met him at a social function when it became clear that he had used her advice successfully. She wrote to him, enclosing a bill. It would have been for the full amount of £1,200 x 2. He refused to pay. When she received his letter Maria was so annoyed that she phoned Gopal Hinduja directly. He said he would go into the guy's office and get him to write out the cheque then and there. I remember he then put this guy onto Maria and they hammered it out. He gave in, presumably because of his boss, Mr Hinduja's influence . She received a cheque for the full amount.

From the first time I worked for Maria. I was always aware that her house was like a florist shop, with floral arrangements sent weekly by the Hindujas. When Keith Vaz was made a Minister there were flowers everywhere. Another wealthy Indian used to send Maria and Keith pre-packed frozen Indian food in bulk to their * * * home. They did not pay for it. This was every 2-3 weeks. It was a gift. Maria used to write letters of thanks. I think their company was in Southall and was taken over by Sainsburys in the past 18 months. He was a millionaire.

When I first started working for Maria she told me there was a whole filing cabinet drawer that I should not open. She told me the name of the client was JAl. Only after working for her for a few months was I able to open the cabinet and on occasions phone his office, somewhere in London—Kensington way I think because when Maria went to Harrods she met him there for a coffee. He came once to our Harrow office in a chauffeured Mercedes and two "heavies" stayed outside by the car. He was South American and a friend of the EMs. As far as I understand, he was wanted for offences in South America and Maria was helping him to defend extradition proceedings against him. I think she was successful in this. I believe most of the work was done before I started and I know she had to go over to Geneva in connection with this. I do not know what he was supposed to have done. He was introduced to Maria by EM.

R G Gresty

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