Porter's offshore assets frozen

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Indy Politics

The worldwide hunt for Dame Shirley Porter's fortune took a huge step forward yesterday when Westminster City Council announced it had frozen millions of pounds of its former leader's assets.

The Tesco heiress owes the Tory borough £37m in surcharges because of the "homes-for-votes" gerrymandering scandal in the 1980s. The House of Lords confirmed the fine two years ago for Dame Shirley's role in attempts to sell council homes to potential Tory voters in marginal wards.

Once reputed to be the 20th richest woman in Europe, with an estimated fortune of £60m, Dame Shirley said she had just £300,000 when ordered by a court to disclose her assets.

The council, which has spent hundreds of thousands of pounds pursuing Dame Shirley - who now lives in Israel - yesterday said it had asked various courts to lift gagging orders, which had previously prevented details of its legal actions being publicised.

The High Court had granted Westminster disclosure orders in camera against accounts in the British Virgin Islands and Guernsey as well as England, with Dame Shirley's son John one of 14 individuals and companies involved.

In a statement, the council said: "The disclosure orders have produced for the council a very substantial amount of information. The assets disclosed ... as a result of the court orders are held in trusts and companies in other jurisdictions."

The council declined to be specific on the sums involved but The Independent understands that they run to several millions. "We have won a battle, not the war, but this is a substantial amount of money," a senior source said.