Well, well, well…we were perhaps a little too quick to question the resolve of some at Tower Hamlets council to stand up to Mayor Lutfur Rahman’s self-styled financial backer Shiraj Haque.
So hats off to Stephen Halsey, the council’s director of Communities, Localities and Culture Directorate at Tower Hamlets council (and who is also the current Head of Paid Service, pending the ongoing fiasco to hire a permanent chief executive.)
For, only a year after handing millionaire housing association tenant Shiraj control of the lucrative Baishakhi Mela, Halsey’s trading standards and environmental health enforcement teams have managed to force a significant guilty admission from the Brick Lane curry king.
Remember this story from Andrew Gilligan in August last year, when he revealed police had raided Shiraj’s restaurant empire and found his Clifton and Shampan restaurants had been selling relabelled wine?
Well, a series of obscure documents on the council’s licensing sub-committee website tells us the full extent of that investigation…and the outcome. See item 4.2 , “An application to review the premises licence for Shampan Tandoori Restaurant at 79 Brick Lane.”
The committee was due to meet on August 30, but the hearing was postponed. Yes, Shiraj could lose his licence, but the damage is already done.
You’ll see on pages 5 and 6 of this document that on July 16, just as Brick Lane was gearing up for its prestigious role as Curry Capital 2012, its most prominent businessman was humiliated by being forced to accept a caution for selling the relabelled wine.
Here’s his signed admission:
The admission that he was selling cheap Italian plonk that had been relabelled as higher strength and presumably more expensive Australian shiraz (I wonder if he intended the pun) could be real trouble for him. It is not a criminal conviction but his name is now on a national convictions database, meaning it will show up in any criminal records bureau/CRB check.
It gets worse. The other documents that have been prepared for the licensing hearing show the full arrogance of Shiraj’s Clifton empire. Last December, the same committee voted to suspend his premises licence after undercover police were approached by touts working for his Shampan restaurant.
That week-long suspension (ie enforced closure of his restaurant) ran from July 9 t0 midnight on July 15. But it seems that for the past year, Mr Halsey’s teams and the police have been keeping a close eye on Shiraj’s activities.
On December 21, a few days after his plaintive appearance at the licensing committee, his Clifton Express supermarket in Westferry Road on the Isle of Dogs was selling booze to what turned out to be an underage police cadet.
And on July 14 and July 15, right in the middle of the supposed trading ban, Mr Halsey’s Tower Hamlets Enforcement Officers (THEOS) were dispatched to watch the Shampan restaurant and on both days saw it selling hot food. Shiraj accepted his dodgy wine caution the next day.
Other documents list allegations that his restaurants have continued to tout and harass customers, and therefore breach important council bylaws. One magistrate court case against a staff member Shiraj subsequently sacked is pending.
The full documents can be read here.
If the licensing committee considers these continuing breaches as significant as I suspect Mr Halsey’s team does, Shiraj could well be deemed not fit to hold a licence.
And if that becomes the case, surely he would be unfit to run his beloved Baishakhi Mela. And if that were the case, what would Lutfur say?
As I’ve said before, it’s about the company you keep…