The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau has started an investigation into the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) following accusations it has mislaid £1.1 million of members’ funds.
City of London police said the matter was being assessed after a complaint from Elsie Owusu, who is campaigning to become RIBA’s first black president, over a property deal conducted by the organisation in 2013.
Under the deal, £21 million was borrowed from Lloyds to lease and refurbish 76 Portland Place, next door to RIBA’s listed headquarters in central London, in order to accommodate staff and allow 66 Portland Place, its historical home, to be used for exhibitions and events.
The loan was repaid after RIBA sold a £31.8 million stake in its commercial arm to a subsidiary of Lloyds last month.
Last year, however, Alan Vallance, the organisation’s chief executive, admitted in an email that £1.1 million of the refurbishment costs could not be properly accounted for.
“I cannot guarantee that the £1.1 million could be fully itemised,” Vallance wrote. “Part of the problem has been the way in which financial expenditure has been captured during the project . . . record-keeping has been poor.”
According to The Times, Owusu was sent a cease and desist letter this month to prevent her making “damaging public statements” after she questioned the salary paid to Vallance — at least £180,000 a year — and claimed it amounted to six times the average annual wage earned by an architect.
Kerr Robertson, the institute’s honorary secretary, said Owusu’s comments were a “flagrant breach of confidentiality” and accused her of violating guidelines “in a serious and repeated fashion” by talking to the press.
Owusu had previously claimed RIBA was institutionally racist and resorted to “Weinstein-like gagging clauses” to silence detractors.
“The missing £1.1 million is part of a much larger concern and if something isn’t done we’ll be back where we started and sailing close to the wind financially,” said Owusu.
“That money would have been much better spent supporting students — many of whom emerge with £100,000 in debt — and the regions, rather than maintaining an expensive building that members don’t have access to when 66 Portland Place sits empty like a morgue.”
RIBA denied any fraud had taken place.
“At RIBA we take great care to manage our finances wisely in accordance with our charitable purpose and to the benefit of members, society and the communities we serve,” Vallance stated. “RIBA’s accounts are reviewed annually by external auditors who have at no point found any unaccounted for improper transactions as part of our accounts.”