Sunday, 15 January 2012

Asian Tory Activist in sleaze scandal

Chairman of British Asian Conservative Link thrown out of party after ‘cash for access’ sting
A prominent British Asian Tory activist has been thrown out of the party after being caught offering access to MP’s in return for cash.  50-year-old Rickie Sehgal, Chairman of the British Asian Conservative Link, was filmed by the Mail on Sunday bragging that he was able to obtain the Prime Minister’s personal mobile phone number if a donor paid GBP 10,000. 
He also claimed he could arrange for Tory MP’s to make personal appearances in support of business ventures, according to the MoS.  When confronted by the paper about his claims, Mr Sehgal said he was “deeply embarrassed” about his “boasts”, which he said he had exaggerated to impress the undercover reporter. 
Mr Sehgal was thrown out of the Tory Party Saturday night with a spokesperson warning the British Asian Conservative Link could also face being stripped of its right to use the official Conservative logo.  The BACL stages regular fundraising events to boost the number of Asian Tory MP’s and Mr Sehgal was most recently pictured whispering in Prime Minister David Cameron’s ear at the party’s lavish Black and White ball where tickets cost up to GBP1000. 
The revelation that Mr Cameron’s private contact details are being touted around for cash will raise fresh concerns over ‘cash for access’; a practice the Prime Minister pledged to eradicate before he came to office. 
Mr Sehgal was filmed by an undercover MoS reporter posing as a businessman who ran a cleaning company in East London.  The two men met at Mr Sehgal’s IT company Transputec Computers in Park Royal.  During the meeting Mr Sehgal claimed he had access to Mr Cameron to the extent that he can lobby the Prime Minister on behalf of parliamentary candidates from an Asian background.  He was filmed saying: “By association with BACL, we take advantage of positive discrimination that exists today to say there aren’t enough Bangladeshi MPs... I might go straight to the Prime Minister, or the central party.’
He also boasted of close links to other senior Cabinet Ministers, especially Baroness Warsi and Lord Feldman of Elstree, the joint chairs of the Tory Party, saying links to the pair also gave him access to Mr Cameron’s diary. 
“Andrew Feldman and Sayeeda Warsi, they are the two chairmens [sic] right, so they run the machinery of the Conservative Party.  They are like the administration, but they are very important because through them you see all the diaries of the PM, all the movements and things like that.”
And he claimed that he knew all Asian Tory politicians ‘like the back of my hand’, including rising Tory stars such as Priti Patel, the MP for Witham, and Alok Sharma, the MP for Reading West – both of whom were helped by BACL in their election campaigns.
Since its establishment in 1997, the BACL has been the Tories’ main contact with the Asian Diaspora community.  BACL has hosted a number of events at the exclusive Conservative Party haunt the Carlton Club where Tory politicians have been wined and dined. 
In 2009, Mr Cameron was guest of honour at Millbank Tower in Westminster at an event organised by Lord Popat, who was then Mr Dolar Popat.  BACL’s website said the tycoon ‘spared no expense in organising the event’. A year later, Mr Popat was made a Tory peer, leading to accusations of ‘cash for peerages’.
An MoS analysis of Electoral Commission records shows that Lord Popat donated £319,641 in the six years prior to being given a peerage.
BACL has three advisers who have all been honored for their work, according to the newspaper.
In June 2010 Dr Prem Sharma, a veterinary surgeon and father of Alok Sharma, who is the Tory MP for Reading West, received an OBE for his services to the community. Dolar Popat was made a Tory peer in the same year. The third adviser, cooking oil tycoon Rami Ranger, a founder of BACL, was awarded an MBE in 2005. Since 2005 Mr Ranger has donated £8,719.92 in his own name and through his company, Sun Mark Oil. 
According to the Mail on Sunday investigation, Mr Sehgal is the managing director of Transputec Computers Plc.  Transputec has IT contracts with both BACL and the Ministry of Justice. The company has an annual turnover of £20 million, and reported £375,000 profits for last year.
Records in Companies House show that its parent company, Investact, is registered in the Isle of Man, a popular tax haven with British businesses. Transputec appears to be a family business with Mr Sehgal’s wife, Pramilla, 52, listed as a secretary of the company. Mr Sehgal’s younger brother, Sunil, 48, is also listed as a director.

The MoS further found that in 2007, Sunil Sehgal and his wife Seema, 47, were accused by US authorities of being part of a ring that used insider information to buy options on shares in TXU, a Dallas electric power company, shortly before it was taken over by a private equity group in a £29 billion deal.  
In 2009, the Sehgals agreed to settle the insider trading charges. They did not admit or deny the allegations but agreed to pay huge fines. Sunil Sehgal was ordered to pay £171,070, including interest, and Seema agreed to pay £201,343.
- Vijitha Alles

‘Nehru Jacket’: Time’s ‘Global Fashion list

‘Nehru Jacket’ on Time’s ‘Global Fashion Statement’ list
The stylish "Nehru jacket" – popularized by India’s first Prime Minister – has been named one of the top 10 global fashion statements by Time magazine.  
Usually considered court dress for Indian nobility, the jacket comes from the northern Indian ‘Ahkan’, a closed neck, coatlike garment.
The Nehru jacket comes 7th on the list which also includes Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s tracksuit and the safari suit worn by former Chinese leader Mao Zedong.
The list also features the trouser suits preferred by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the chic glasses sported by former US presidential candidate Sarah Palin.  
"It was when the jacket was marketed to Western audiences that it took the 'Nehru' title, the charismatic prime minister having popularised its style in public appearances during his tenure in government," the magazine said.
It said Nehru was not the only prominent figure associated with it.
"The minimalist aesthetic of the jacket inspired the likes of the Beatles (who wore the style at their Shea Stadium performance) as well as Sammy Davis Jr, who claimed to own more than 200 of the jackets."
-    Vijitha Alles

French Sikh wins backing of UN rights body

French Sikh wins backing of UN rights body over wearing of Turban

A Sikh man in France has won the backing of the United Nations Human Rights Committee in his battle to wear his turban in defiance of French laws against religious headgear.
The UNHCR said the laws were in violation of the religious freedoms of 76-year-old Frenchman Ranjit Singh, adding that Mr Singh’s turban did not pose a security risk.  Among other things, Mr Singh had complained that French authorities had forced him to remove his turban when having his passport and driver’s license photos taken.
Under French law, those who refuse to remove their faith-based headgear were usually denied passports or other forms of ID.
In Mr Singh’s case the absence of a formal photo ID became a serious concern for him and his family as he has been unable to get access to public health care since 2005 as he does not have photo identification.  “I cannot get myself treated,” he told the BBC.  “I cannot get X-rays, I cannot get a blood test done and I cannot get admitted to hospital.”
In its judgment, the UNHRC said: "Even if the obligation to remove the turban for the identity photograph might be described as a one-time requirement, it would potentially interfere with [Ranjit Singh's] freedom of religion on a continuing basis because he would always appear without his religious head covering in the identity photograph and could therefore be compelled to remove his turban during identity checks.”
Singh and another Sikh, 55-year-old Shingara Singh, went to the UN after courts in France declared that French officials were within their rights to ban turbans on grounds of security.
While most of the controversy in France over religious headgear has focused on Islamic veils, burqas and niqabs, there is also an aggrieved Sikh community in the country, albeit very small. In 2004, the Paris government banned the wearing of religious headgear in schools, which included the turbans worn by Sikh males.
Singh cheered the UN’s ruling and told BBC: "[The turban] is part of my body. It is my identity and I cannot part with it. I had faith that truth and justice would prevail and I patiently waited for this day.”
He added: "I pray that France will now fulfill its obligation and grant me a residence card bearing my photo without baring my head."
Preneet Kaur, India’s minister of state for external affairs and a Sikh, also hailed the UN decision "for making everyone realize what the turban means to Sikhs".
The UNHCR’s decision is non-binding and has no legal authority in France.  The country’s Sikh community however, is hoping the decision will help in overturning existing laws.
Mejinderpal Kaur of United Sikhs, a Sikhs rights group which supported Singh’s case, told reporters: "We now look to France to fulfill its treaty obligations under international law and its moral duty to ensure that the freedom of religion and belief is upheld for everyone who lives within its territory."
-    Vijitha Alles