Baroness Warsi, the Conservative Party chairman, faces damaging new questions over her business dealings.
|Lady Warsi has been on 17 foreign trips while in office, even though her role as party chairman is to foster relations with grassroots members |
By Jason Lewis, Investigations Editor9:00PM BST 02 Jun 2012
A Sunday Telegraph investigation has uncovered that she has never registered a controlling stake in a spice manufacturing firm with the House of Lords authorities.
The disclosure appears to be in breach of rules that order peers to declare their business interests, particularly if they are the principal shareholders in a company.
It follows Lady Warsi’s admission last week that she failed to declare rental income from a property she owned.
The peer claimed the issue of the rent was “an oversight”. However, her stake in a company, Rupert’s Recipes, the existence of which has never been declared, raises significant questions over her judgment. Labour said she had urgent questions to answer.
|KEY DOCUMENT: Warsi's 60 per cent shareholding.|
The Sunday Telegraph investigation also found that:
* Lady Warsi’s business partner, Abid Hussain, accompanied her on a ministerial trip to Pakistan where he met leading politicians;
* Mr Hussain has been a leading member of Hizb ut Tahrir, the radical Islamic group the Tories promised to ban while in opposition;
* It is unclear if Mr Hussain was subjected to security vetting before accompanying the peer to Pakistan;
* Lady Warsi has been on 17 foreign trips while in office, even though her role as party chairman is to foster relations with grassroots members.
The peer referred herself to the Lords Commissioner for Standards after it emerged that she claimed an allowance for accommodation while staying at the home of a party donor who said he did not charge rent. She said she made an “appropriate payment” to Naweed Khan for the nights she stayed at the property in Acton, west London.
Lady Warsi’s business dealings, disclosed in company documents, prompted calls last night for a full investigation into whether she has broken parliamentary rules.
Accounts for Rupert’s Recipes from February say she owns 60 per cent of the shares in the firm. Initially she owned a third of the shares, with Mr Hussain and another unnamed businessman both also holding a third. However, in the February accounts Lady Warsi had increased her holding to 60 per cent and Mr Hussain had 40 per cent. According to the Lords code of conduct, members must register share holdings in firms in which they hold a controlling interest or if they are valued at more than £50,000.
The peer was listed as a director of the company under the name of Sayeeda Hussain-Warsi from its establishment in February 2009 until July 6 2010, two months after she entered the Cabinet.
It is unclear whether Lady Warsi was paid. The code requires “unremunerated directorships” to be registered, as “certain non-financial interests may reasonably be thought to affect the way members of the House of Lords discharge their public duties”.
Yesterday Lady Warsi issued a statement saying: “My shareholdings and, before becoming a minister, directorships, have at all material times been disclosed as required on the Register of Lords’ Interests and to the Cabinet Office and on the register of ministerial interests.”
A party source said the shares were transferred into her name briefly in February before being moved in turn to her husband, Iftikhar Azam. The source said the next set of accounts would reflect this.
However, critics said she still faced questions. The Lords rules do not exempt shares held only briefly from registration. They also say that those held “on behalf of a spouse” must be registered.
The source also said unpaid directorships had only needed to be registered since the rules were changed last year.
Lady Warsi has registered shareholdings in her father’s company and her husband’s.
The background of Mr Hussain in Rupert’s Recipes is also likely to prove controversial. The Sunday Telegraph has uncovered details of his past involvement with the radical Islamic group Hizb ut Tahrir.
He was a prominent member of the group set up in Britain by Omar Bakri Muhammad, the radical preacher. It is unclear when he left the organisation. Lady Warsi said: “I am not aware of any involvement between Abid Hussain and Hizb ut Tahrir, and no such relationship has ever been suggested previously.”
Mr Hussain and Lady Warsi were on close terms by the summer of 2009, when she married Mr Azam, her second husband. Mr Hussain was in the front row of one wedding picture. He has also accompanied her on two trips to Pakistan. The first was while she was in opposition, but on the second, in July 2010, he attended at least two Foreign Office events.
A spokesman for the British High Commission said the Government did not pay for his visit: “Mr Hussain was not part of the official delegation.” Lady Warsi said: “Neither I nor the Conservative Party nor the Government has ever met the costs of foreign visits by Abid Hussain.”
Labour said ministers should state whether Mr Hussain was security cleared. They also said his presence on the trips had parallels to the case of Liam Fox, who quit as defence secretary after he was joined abroad by an unofficial adviser, Adam Werritty.
Michael Dugher, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “This looks like the Liam Fox-Adam Werritty case all over again. David Cameron needs to show he is prepared to make sure his ministers show the highest standards of behaviour.”
Details also emerged of the extent of Lady Warsi’s travels. She has undertaken 17 trips since July 2010. Eight were paid for by the Government, two by Saudi Arabia and one by an Azerbaijani expatriate group. Six have taken place since January but funding details have yet to be published.