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London law firm Vardags took £300,000 of taxpayer cash while companies owned by its directors invoiced the firm over £3 million for consulting services.
The divorce specialist collected £295,111 in "government grants" in 2021, according to its accounts.
Over the same period, two companies registered in Dubai, Vardags Management Consultancy and Spin-out Strategy Consultancy, billed the firm a total of £3,392,000. Unless chunks of the invoices outstanding from the previous year were written-off, the accounts indicate that Vardags paid the two companies as much as £2,752,870 in 2021.
As previously revealed, Vardags' President, Ayesha Vardag, is also the Managing Director of Vardags Management Consultancy, and her husband, Vardags Director of Strategy Stephen Bence, is the founder and chair of Spin-out Strategy Consultancy.
The firm refused to confirm whether the couple owned the companies, although its accounts specify that the owners of Vardags Management Consultancy and Spin-out Strategy Consultancy are Vardags shareholders, and records at Companies House indicate that the only shareholders of Vardags are Vardag and Bence.
Vardags also declined to say whether the Dubai consultancies represented good value for money. At almost £3.4 million, their bills were equivalent to just under 20% of Vardags' entire 2021 turnover. The expensive consultancy services also failed to prevent Vardags from incurring a loss of over £600,000 and, ironically, may have contributed to it. The loss meant Vardags did not pay any corporation tax in 2021.
Dubai consultancies were not the only possible source of income for certain Vardags directors. The firm split a £1.2m pot between its seven directors, and also awarded two unnamed directors a £2 million dividend. The bonus remained unpaid by year-end, however, possibly because Vardags only had around £1 million left in the bank.
Vardags' headcount fell by 17 in 2021, but a spokesperson suggested that this was not necessarily due to redundancies, but could have been because the firm did not retain trainees and jettisoned under-performing employees. There is no suggestion that Vardags misused any government money.
In a statement the firm claimed that Vardag and Bence had actually been putting money into the firm, although it failed to specify how.
The firm said, "We are not going to comment on speculative assertions and misleading figures. But we can say that both Ayesha Vardag and Stephen Bence have, one way or another, provided substantial financial support to Vardags since the start of the pandemic, and they continue to do so. Further, we can comment that the firm used the furlough scheme in a financial year in which it made a loss in order to preserve jobs, precisely as the Government intended".
Vardag once created a toe-curling website dedicated to her impending nuptials, then made the news for banning her lawyers from wearing cardigans, and then for taking the suspected source of the leak to court. A fan of the high life, she once gave a trainee the all-timer of trainee errands: flying her a frock to France to wear to Elton John's party.