The picture on the left is taken from a story we printed in the East London Advertiser in 2008. It is of Shiraj Haque, King of the Brick Lane curry kings. Anyone with more than a passing involvement in Tower Hamlets politics would have come across him. He boasts about his influence with politicians – and for good reason. As owner of the Clifton Group, he owns the Clifton curry houses in Brick Lane and on the Isle of Dogs, where he also runs a supermarket. He also owns property and investment companies (more on that later). At the age of 53, he is said to be a millionaire and the most powerful man in Brick Lane.
He also says he’s a Labour supporter, but he’s also in the past said to have offered funds to the Tories, Respect and even the Lib Dems. He’s a man for all seasons is our Shiraj. But he’s certainly no saint.
Over the three years or so I worked at the East London Advertiser, he was a regular in the paper, popping up to receive some restaurant award, or to deny accusations by the BBC that his restaurant was a filthy disgrace, or to deny allegations that he had assaulted a fellow Brick Lane businessman, or to deny suggestions that Bethnal Green’s huge Baishakhi Mela festival was being used as a front for a human trafficking racket, here and here. [He was never charged with any of those offences and it must be said that dirty trick allegations in the Brick Lane business community are commonplace.]
His involvement in the running of the annual Mela in Weavers Fields is worthy of particular note. As chair of the Baishakhi Mela Trust, he developed May’s three-day event into a huge success, regularly attracting crowds of 100,000. Curiously for a businessman so intent on making money, Haque insisted he made no profit from the festival and that he donated his enormous energies purely as an act of philanthropic goodwill. Whether that was the case, we’ll never really know: in 2007, Tower Hamlets council, which subsidised the celebrations, decided to sever relations with him. Why? Because following concerns over the Trust’s finances, the council sent in auditors from Deloitte, who could:
‘provide no assurance that the financial practices and controls adopted by the BMT are sufficiently adequate and effective to enable robust financial management of the trust’s funds’.
That is, both the council and independent auditors were aghast at the lack of financial control in the Trust. The council then invited other groups to run the event. To Shiraj, that was an act of war. Ever since, it has been his aim to regain control over his beloved Mela.
Was this one of the reasons why he backed Lutfur Rahman’s bid to become the first directly elected mayor of Tower Hamlets? Time will tell. What is certain is that he’s pulling out all the stops for Lutfur.
Here he is quoted on Andrew Gilligan’s Telegraph blog:
“The campaign for a directly elected mayor was my initiative. Whatever expenses were required, I had to pay for it. Tower Hamlets politics was corrupt. I needed someone to fix it, so I thought let’s try him [Lutfur].”
Mr Haque denied bankrolling Lutfur’s personal campaign – which has been notably better-resourced than that of any of the other candidates – even though Lutfur’s election leaflets are exactly identical in design and typeface to those produced by the campaign for a directly-elected mayor. “Many things look the same in the world,” said Mr Haque. “It’s the computer age.”
And here he is, even inviting members of the Tower Hamlets Tory party to a massive fundraising/campaign event at the Troxy on Tuesday.
You are cordially invited to attend the grand community endorsement & ‘Lutfur for Mayor’ campaign launch and dinner on Tuesday 14th September at the Troxy on Commercial Road at 6pm. Special guest speakers, fabulous dinner followed by live entertainment – an event not to be missed! Be part of something amazing, be part of history in the making! Please register online to attend at www.lutfurrahman.com thank you, shiraj haque
Now, for someone so passionate about the future of Tower Hamlets, isn’t it good to see that he actually lives in the borough…? According to the electoral roll and documents at Companies House, he lives in the Bethnal Green/Haggerston area, right on the border with Hackney along Pritchard’s Road. And not only that, Land Registry records show that the canny millionaire rents his house from the Peabody Trust, one of Britain’s oldest pioneers in social housing. (I knocked on his door earlier today; there was no answer, but a neighbour said he lived there.)
And all the time he writes out rent cheques to Peabody each month, he is acting as landlord to his own tenants. His Renegade Investment Properties is a branch of Clifton Properties, whose marketing blurb can be seen in this link:
The popularity of the property market has not escaped the grasp of Clifton Properties. Established before the millennium, Clifton Properties experts understand the ins and outs of a dreadfully complicated and daunting property market.
The latest accounts for Renegade, which is wholly owned by Shiraj Haque, show it has a property portfolio worth £2.4million, while his Redstar Assets Ltd controls £1.5million. (His Clifton Group of restaurants are more complicated. More on those later.)
How fortunate Labour and Lutfur are to have such support. Incidentally, I can’t trace any donations made by Shiraj to the Labour Party on the registers kept by the Electoral Commission. If anyone knows under which names those donations were made, do please let me know.