Why British journalists pretend to be Indian businessmen
Rickie Sehgal, the Indian businessman with Conservative Party links, was in all probability merely boasting when he allegedly told an undercover British reporter he could get him David Cameron’s mobile (cell) phone number if he joined his elite club of South Asian Tory supporters. The price? A mere £10,000 a year, apparently.
It doesn’t take a genius to guess that the British Prime Minister’s mobile phone number is among the world’s most secretly-guarded 11 digits (that’s including the zero at the start but for all you know it may not even be 11 digit-long.) In Westminster, ministers and maybe some MPs will have access to that mobile phone, but I cannot imagine too many outside that charmed village will.
An Indian colleague set me wondering about media stings and South Asians. Why do people in powerful positions fall so frequently for reporters turning up in the guise of the ubiquitous Asian or Indian businessman? This particular Mail on Sunday reporter posed as an Asian businessman from the East End of London, a place inhabited by many ethnic Bangladeshis.
He wanted to be a member of Sehgal’s British Asian Conservative Link (BACL) and get to schmooze with Tory bigwigs. The reporter claiming to be a businessman said he owned an industrial cleaning firm and asked if he could meet with home minister Theresa May to discuss immigration policy. Why? Because the government’s move to keep out low-skilled foreign workers could damage his company.
Sehgal, in fairness, did tell him to begin by canvassing for Tory party candidates – “one step at a time.” And Sehgal was contrite later, admitting his boasts of arranging one-to-one meetings with Cameron Tory party co-chairs Baroness Warsi and Lord Feldman were mere boasts. “There are many other people that we know who would just like to part with money and go and talk to Cameron, and that does not exist in reality,” he said. You can see the video of the entrapment here.
How do otherwise savvy and successful businessmen such as Sehgal find themselves in such sticky situations? Presumably savviness is how you become successful in business?
I find it far easier to understand the gullibility shown by Sarah Ferguson, the Duchess of York and ex-wife of Queen Elizabeth II’s second son Prince Andrew. In 2010, a reporter from the now-defunct News of the World tabloid ran a sting on her, where she was filmed offering access to Prince Andrew for £500,000.
Again, the reporter posed as an Indian businessman. I find Sarah’s gullibility more understandable (I do not find it acceptable though) because many aristocrats tend not to be street smart (they don’t have to). Besides, she was a pretty desperate woman, living in the US after her divorce and in apparent dire need of cash (she didn’t have a “pot to piss in,” was her charming description of her life).
The British Asian journalist who entrapped Fergie was of course none other than Mazhar Mahmood, also known as the Fake Sheikh and the man who exposed spot-fixing in the heart of Pakistani cricket later in the year. Once again, the way the journalist trapped cricket agent Mazhar Majeed into accepting cash for spot-fixing in the summer of 2010 was by pretending to be an Indian businessman.
The gullibility of Majeed is hard to understand. These are hard-nosed businessmen, used to striking deals in the world of Pakistani cricket.
Maybe these stings say something about the reputation of Indian businessmen (their fabulous cash wealth, for sure, but also a certain sleaziness perhaps? Do people really pay that much for access and contacts at high places?). The stings most certainly say something about the greed of those who are caught. The slightest whiff of cash, and they appear to lower basic guards.
The one man who famously didn’t fall for a sting was the lefty British MP George Galloway. In 2006, the Fake Sheikh lured Galloway to a meeting where, pretending to be a Sheikh, he tried to persuade the MP to accept foreign funding for his small political party and make anti-Jewish statements (Galloway’s London constituency had many Muslims).
Galloway smelt a rat when he noticed that although the man sitting opposite was dressed as a sheikh, he neither wore a beard nor knew much about Islam. After the meeting the MP notified Scotland Yard and the Speaker of the British parliament.
My word of advice to Brits at risk of such stings is to read up about India and Indian businesses. Who or what is Tehelka is a pretty good question to ask someone who opens a briefcase full of cash in front of you.