Mirpur in July: the heat is stifling before the monsoon rains, and normally the wealthy and well-connected would not venture far from their air-conditioned villas.
|Baroness Warsi with business partner Abid Hussain|
By Jason Lewis, Investigations Editor7:50AM GMT 03 Jun 0212
But there is every reason for Mirpur’s elite to brave the outdoors today, as the biggest political draw of the year has come to the Hilton.
Baroness Warsi is a heroine, a “daughter of Pakistan” whose father left the country with £2, and who has reached the pinnacle of the British establishment.
As she takes to the platform Lady Warsi is backed up by an entourage of diplomats, civil servants, security from the Pakistani government and British High Commission, and one man who is none of these: Abid Hussain.
Tall, burly, crop-haired and bearded, he is described on the official programme — and now on the Foreign Office website’s record of the event — as a “barrister”.
In fact, The Sunday Telegraph can disclose, he is Lady Warsi’s business partner, co-director in an enterprise never declared to the House of Lords authorities, and a one-time leading radical Islamist.
At the event in the capital of Pakistani Kashmir in July 2010, Mr Hussain, 42, shared the platform with Adam Thomson, Britain’s high commissioner to Pakistan and a senior local politician. Local reports said “speakers paid glorious tributes” to Lady Warsi for “her long meritorious services”. One newspaper described Mr Hussain as “a prominent UK-based Kashmiri expatriate leader”, and another said that he “presided over the ceremony”.
It was not Mr Hussain’s first trip with Lady Warsi. When she was shadow community cohesion minister, he accompanied her to meet the Pakistani prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, in private talks in August 2008 at the national assembly in Islamabad.
On this occasion the Pakistani national news agency described Mr Hussain as a “former adviser to the office of the Deputy Prime Minister of [the] UK”.
|Baroness Warsi with her business parter Abid Hussain (far right) on Ministerial visit|
Whether Mr Hussain has ever worked in Whitehall is unclear. Despite being described regularly as a barrister he is not registered with the Bar Council and his day job is as the £60,000-a-year “third sector and external funding manager” at Tower Hamlets council, overseeing grants to community groups.
It is his business interests that put him in the spotlight. All are connected to his ethnic and religious roots. He is the director of Abikram Limited, which he runs with a Labour councillor, and until recently he ran a news agency called Islamabad Times and another firm called New Perspective Consultancy Limited, which he closed in December 2010.
He was also one of the men behind Qibla Cola, a drink launched in 2003 which was intended to take on Coke and Pepsi while funnelling some of its profits to Islamic causes. The firm was put into administration in September 2005.
However, the most significant venture is Rupert’s Recipes, which supplies Asian spices to caterers and restaurants. Its accounts published in February said it was then 60 per cent owned by Lady Warsi and 40 per cent by Mr Hussain. The accounts also show that it has almost £20,000 in the bank and owes its creditors almost £28,000, but disclose nothing about turnover or pre-tax profits.
Its website, registered in the name of Lady Warsi’s second husband, Iftikhar Azam, at the couple’s former home in Dewsbury, West Yorks, features fried Asian chicken, fish and vegetable dishes spiced with the firm’s products and a step-by-step guide to preparing them. Lady Warsi was a director from February 2009 until July 6, 2010, and Mr Azam was a director from July 2010 until January this year.
How and when Lady Warsi became involved with Mr Hussain is unclear. He was born in Sheffield and studied law at Sheffield Hallam University. In the mid-1990s he became involved with the radical Islamic group Hizb ut Tahrir. When or whether he has left is unknown and he could not be reached for comment.
Mr Hussain became a leading figure in the group, alongside his brother Muhammad Nawaz Khan, who was once its spokesman in Pakistan, where it has been declared illegal.
David Cameron has tried more than once to get the group banned. As Opposition leader he called on Gordon Brown to proscribe it as a terrorist organisation. The pledge was in the Conservative manifesto but a government review came down against a ban.
One former leading member said last night that Mr Hussain “is a strong Islamist still, though [he] left Hizb ut Tahrir after being with it for several years”.
Last year another former member, Shiraz Maher, now a senior research fellow at King’s College London, wrote: “Abid Hussain and [other named individuals] were all on the national executive when I became the first senior member to resign in 2005.”
In September 2005, three months after the July 7 bombings, Mr Hussain gave speeches with Hizb ut Tahrir leaders in Luton, Burton upon Trent, Staffs, and Walthamstow, east London, opposing Labour’s plan to introduce tough anti-terrorism laws. In Burton, Mr Hussain, billed as “a barrister from London”, said the government saw Muslims as “guilty by association”. The following year he again spoke out. He said: “Killing is not the issue. Muslims do not advocate this. But anyone who wants to see troops withdrawn from Muslim land is regarded as a terrorist.” Mr Hussain is also a backer of Lord Ahmed, the Labour peer who was suspended in April after reportedly offering a bounty on Barack Obama.
* Additional reporting by Rob Crilly in Islamabad