Cobra Chief to open Piazza

Lord Bilimoria will officially open the Piazza building on Heslington East on 13 March [Image credit: University of York]

On the 13 March Lord Bilimoria has been invited to open the University’s new Piazza building. However, this move has created upset amongst some university staff as a result of Lord Bilimoria’s past actions. The crossbench peer, who has been Chair of the Cobra Beer Partnership since 2009, faced scrutiny in 2016 as a result of his involvement in the Panama papers scandal.

A Guardian investigation into the leaked Panama Papers two years ago revealed that Lord Bilimoria was linked to offshore firms. A Guardian article described how Bilimoria “appears as one of more than 100 share-holders in a Virgin Islands company called Mulberry Holdings Asset Limited.” In addition, “Lord Bilimoria was criticised for using a ‘pre-pack’ deal to buy back a stake in the firm. He spoke out against claims he abandoned creditors with debts of £71m, and promised to repay them some of the cash.”

To this Lord Bilimoria responded stating that Mulberry was a dormant company formed “for my ex-shareholders in Cobra, many of whom are not resident in the UK”. He also stated that he was taxed in the UK for his entire global income and all of his interests are declared.The event itself is scheduled to include a welcome from the Vice-Chancellor before Lord Bilimoria will make a speech for roughly 40 minutes. This will be followed by a 20 minute question and answer session before Lord Bilimoria will unveil a plaque alongside an elect-ed student representative.

Lord Bilimoria, who was appointed as Chancellor of Birmingham in 2014, is rumoured to be greeted by staff boycotts as a result of his association with the Panama papers. The University has also been criticised by staff for selecting for Lord Bilimoria to open the Piazza building in the context of strike action.

One anonymous staff member stated that they were concerned that at a time when university lecturers are striking to protect their pensions, the University had select-ed such a figure to come and open the new building. They went on to question what sort of message does this sends out to students and the public?

When asked why the University had selected Lord Bilimoria to open the Piazza building a university spokesperson stated “Lord Bilimoria has had an outstanding career as a leader in business and entrepreneurship and has shown enormous support for higher education and has regularly and particularly highlighted the vital importance of being able to attract international students to the UK. The Piazza building is the home of our International Pathway College, and is also used by The York Management School, so the combination of Lord Bilimoria’s career as a business leader with his advocacy for international students were key considerations.”

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