Cosmetic surgery tycoon had secret offshore company

The millionaire head of a controversial cosmetic surgery chain, the biggest in the UK, owned a secret offshore company linked to the clinic, it can be revealed. 

Mel Braham’s Harley Medical Group has attracted criticism for refusing free replacements to women during the PIP silicone breast implant scandal. The International Consortium of Investigative Journalists/Guardian inquiry has now identified Braham, who has an address in London, as the man behind an anonymous offshore entity registered in the British Virgin Islands under the name The Memphis Company Ltd.

When asked about the tax advantages of having an offshore account, Braham at first denied any connection between his clinic and the British Virgin Islands entity. He wrote: “This Memphis company that you refer to, has not, nor ever has had, any connection with The Harley Medical Group. To the best of my knowledge it has never traded or had any business transaction with The Harley Medical Group.”

However, when, the Guardian provided detailed evidence that the Memphis Company was in fact administered from the London headquarters of his Harley Medical Group, at 11 Queen Anne Street near Oxford Circus, Braham did not respond with any further comment. He would not explain the role of the Memphis Company.

Braham’s cosmetic surgery chain is easily Britain’s biggest, with a turnover of around £30m. Braham, who formerly ran a hair transplant clinic in New Zealand, and now lives in a luxury flat at Chelsea Harbour, is recorded as having made large sums out of the business. His UK-­registered company, the Harley Medical Centre Ltd, paid him director’s fees of more than £500,000 in 2010 and 2011.

In addition, a cash dividend of more than £1m was paid out to his interests in 2010, via an offshore nominee company in Guernsey. 

According to the ICIJ’s research, the Harley Medical Group’s then financial controller, Simon Brazier, dealt with The Memphis Company’s routine affairs, but Braham signed some correspondence personally. After Brazier’s return to New Zealand, his successor as financial controller at the Harley Medical Group, Toni Culverwell, took over the role in 2010. Braham also set up a sister BVI company with an “Irish Branch” called The Harley Medical Group (Ireland) Ltd, which is openly registered in Dublin.

Braham faced controversy when he insisted in January this year that the Harley clinics could not afford the surgery for free replacement of the silicone implants they had inserted into almost 14,000 British women, which had proved prone to rupture. The French supplier of the cheap PIP implants, which contained industrial-grade silicone instead of the much dearer medical-grade gel, is currently in jail in France, awaiting trial.

Braham, who described himself as “the innocent party”, was quoted as saying: “We don’t have the number of surgeons, the hospitals and the anaesthetists and we don’t have the financial capacity to do it for nothing.”

“We do roughly 5,000 to 6,000 operations a year and are not capable of adding another 13,900 on top of that.”

Braham demanded the NHS pay for the bulk of the costs.  

Faced with a legal class action from a group of aggrieved women demanding compensation, it was disclosed this month that Braham has now put the Harley Medical Centre Ltd into administration, while reopening and carrying on operations under another name, Aesthetic and Cosmetic Surgery Ltd. 

A Harley spokesman was quoted as saying: “Legal claims against Harley Medical Centre will no longer be able to take place.” He added: “We were ... faced with liabilities arising from a class action that we simply wouldn’t have been able to survive.”

David Leigh is a member of ICIJ. This story was also published in The Guardian.

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