A bit more #biryaniproject.

So I noticed Jahan Mahmood was on twitter. I had some stuff I wanted to know so I thought I’d ask him and find out.

Interesting; I don’t yet know what he means by the direction Afzal Amin wanted to pursue. But there’s more (the conversation is here). He identifies Samir Rauf as a schoolteacher, which we knew, and Mohammed Hanif as neither the councillor nor the cop, but yet another schoolteacher albeit one who’s managed to stay entirely off the web, which is news. This is presumably why a free school was meant to be part of the whole scheme.

He says Tassaduq Hussain was “a former employee of Green Lane”, which is a masjid, but thinks he didn’t have anything to do with Curzon companies although he manifestly did, a discrepancy that probably arises because Hussain joined the board after he left.

Demand your right to own a monkey

In DEFRA’s Q1 2013 lobbying disclosure, I see that DEFRA PUSS Lord de Mauley (yes! really) had the following meeting:

February: Private individual. To discuss the private keeping of primates.

Who is it that’s lobbying government for the right to keep monkeys? Not just that, who is this nameless private citizen who gets access to ministers in pursuit of their campaign for monkey freedom? I hope it’s Prince Charles. I really do.

(Less excitingly, I wonder why Jonathan Ashworth MP decided to ask the other DEFRA PUSS if they had any contracts with the Curzon Institute or Curzon Education Ltd. Going by this I think he was asking all the departments in turn.)

Even more #biryaniproject

This Reuters piece repays close reading:

Crucially, for the people around Alum Rock, [Jahan] Mahmood takes no public funding for this part of his work. The fact his initiative lies outside of Prevent gives it credibility…

Also:

Prevent is derided by many Muslim groups for relying heavily on the police, for bureaucracy and incompetence, and for being open to exploitation by cash-hungry groups with questionable claims to community leadership.

portfolios combine to deliver world-class services. and biryanis

Would it amaze anyone if this piece of shit turned out to be registered to the same no-name provider and hosted on the same server at 195.26.90.15 as the Curzon Institute? Also, all the image filenames are of the form Alamin_Img_[0-9].jpg, implying they’re basically his holiday snaps dumped onto the web. Some are clearly in Iraq or Afghanistan, but one or more look like a nice beach holiday, another is the front of Birmingham town hall, and yet a third appears to be Wraysbury station. “UK Strategy Support Services”, my arse.

10 insights on the Biryani Project

So, to summarise this post a bit, here are some insights:

1) The Curzon Foundation website has been up since February 2010. The various Curzon companies have existed for the same period of time, one succeeding the other as they successively failed to file accounts and got struck off. It looks very much like each one was intended to replace the previous one. They share addresses and directors. Although the Initiative and Foundation don’t have Afzal Amin as a director, we know from Mohammed Hanif’s LinkedIn profile that there is no distinction between them and the Institute.

2) From 2013 on, Afzal Amin and friends were operating parallel commercial and charitable entities with the same address, website, and field of operations. The £120,000 Government grant was paid to a nonprofit entity, but it would have been very easy to have it contract with one of the commercial companies for services, or buy assets from them. The scandal at the Kings Science Academy in Bradford is an example of this kind of related-party transaction abuse.

3) The network of directors around Amin includes local property developers, people associated with both Home Office and DCLG counter-radicalisation projects, a school governor accused (controversially) of being an Islamic extremist, and either a Labour councillor, or a serving police officer, or both. What was a Labour councillor doing trying to get a Tory elected? What was a cop doing getting involved in party politics? What was he doing holding outside directorships? If it was the councillor, not the cop, why didn’t he mention the Curzons on his declaration of interests?

4) Calling it the Curzon Institute was simply illegal. So was offering to pay EDL activists to canvass.

5) Far from being a purely hypothetical discussion, it seems that the Biryani Project actually became operational on the 26th of February, when the EDL did indeed march in Dudley. Local news reporting at the time quotes Councillor Hanif, Afzal Amin, and Chief Supt Johnson (also mentioned by Amin in the Yaxley-Lennon tape) expressing their profound satisfaction. The image of racists, jihadis, aldermen, cops, and a Tory converging on a provincial mosque by their common accord is deeply surreal.

6) The same story also mentions “community stewards” organised by the head of the Dudley Private Hire and Taxi Association. Seems legit…

7) If the Curzon entities were functioning as far back as February 2010, it seems logical to suppose they were getting money from somewhere, and further that they used it for something. That somewhere was presumably the PREVENT/CONTEST programme, but I don’t think anyone intended that to fund either Councillor Hanif or would-be Tory MP Afzal Amin’s electioneering or even some guy’s buy-to-let empire.

News stories about Jahan Mahmood at the time suggest that the “new” counter-radicalisation programme, which wasn’t meant to talk to anyone who might be too radical under the influence of Michael Gove, cut off his funding. Is the point here that Afzal Amin got DCLG to restore the flow of money into the pre-existing Curzon network, in exchange for its support to get elected?

8) It seems very, very likely that Afzal Amin exaggerated his military career substantially. We know that he was in Iraq as an education officer, not some sort of commando, and that he gave the impression to the BBC that he was a tutor or personal adjutant to Prince Harry when in fact he was the education officer attached to his regiment. He doesn’t seem to have left the Adjutant-General’s Corps Education & Training Branch throughout his career.

9) A source tells me that the leadership of the Defence Academy are “extremely angry” about Amin and are actively trying to get DCLG to cancel the grant and recover any money that hasn’t disappeared.

10) And there’s still another company – UKS3 Ltd – and another director – Michelle Clayton – to look into.

Biryani Project: the Webcheck remix

Which companies did Afzal Amin intend to use for his various schemes? Here’s a rundown.

1) Curzon Education Ltd. This was formed on the 30th of July, 2013, as a company limited by guarantee (i.e. a nonprofit), by Afzal Amin as sole director. Its address is given as 1 VICTORIA SQUARE, BIRMINGHAM, B1 1BD, and its business is described as “educational support services”. It is active and filed a return on 10th November 2014, although not its accounts.

2) The Curzon Initiative Ltd, company number 08631604. This was formed on the 31st of July, 2013, as a private limited company (i.e. a commercial, profitmaking entity), with £10,000 founding capital, by Afzal Amin and Michelle Clayton. She is described as an education consultant, but quit the board in October 2013. However, the company didn’t get around to notifying Companies House until November 2014. This may not be surprising as it hasn’t filed its accounts either, which are now so overdue that it is threatened with being struck off the register. Its address is also given as 1 VICTORIA SQUARE, BIRMINGHAM, B1 1BD.

3) UKS3 Ltd. This was formed on the 11th of June, 2012, as a private limited company, with £10,000 capital, by Afzal Amin as sole director. It was also tardy, failing to file for 2012-2013 for a full 12 months until it was threatened with being struck off on the 10th of June, 2014, whereupon Amin rattled his dags, as the Aussies say, and filed on the 17th. Its business is described as “Management consultancy other than financial”. Its address is 3RD FLOOR, 207 REGENT STREET, LONDON, W1B 3HH, which it shares with no fewer than 5,282 other directors – that is to say, it’s a mail drop address. Google Street View shows it to be next door to a rather nice Italian caff I occasionally used when I worked around the corner in Mortimer Street.

4) Now this is distinctly odd. Birmingham has multiple Curzon Initiatives and they’re both in the education business. This one – company number 07163796 for the avoidance of confusion – was incorporated in February 2010, providing “Other educational services” from an address at 1022-1026 COVENTRY ROAD, HAYMILLS, BIRMINGHAM, WEST MIDLANDS, B25 8DP, before it moved to 1 VICTORIA SQUARE, BIRMINGHAM, WEST MIDLANDS, B1 1BD, the same address as the other Curzon Initiative, on the 17th of February, 2011. Not long after the move, it became tardy as well – it filed its accounts and return for 2010-2011 very late and never filed anything again, until it was struck-off on the 18th of June, 2013 after ignoring two warnings from Companies House, i.e. six weeks before the other Curzon Initiative stood up.

At the time of its demise, it had one director, Mr Mohammed Hanif. But it was not always so. Jahan Mahmood and Samir Rauf were also founding directors, but Mahmood quit after a month. Tassadduq Hussain Razzaq then joined, on the 22nd of April, 2010. He and Rauf would both quit on the 16th of November, 2011, just after it was threatened with being struck-off for the second time and was spurred into filing.

Would that be Jahan Mahmood, “former adviser to the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) in the Home Office” and “historian and former lecturer at the University of Birmingham, specialising in the martial traditions of Afghan and Pakistani diaspora communities”? I think it might, especially in the light of this:

In an email to a member of a military think tank, sent just after the attack on Lee Rigby in Woolwich in May, which he asked to be passed to General Sir David Richards, then Chief of the Defence Staff, Mr Mahmood said that he “can only hope” that the OSCT communicated his concerns “to army personnel”.

“Military thinktank”? Uh huh. This parliamentary report strongly suggests the whole “talks in schools about the Indian Army” scheme might have been his idea. They were quite…compelling, too.

In a community centre in the British Midlands, 12 teenage boys — all of south Asian descent — watch intently as Jahan Mahmood unzips a canvas bag and pulls out the dark, angular shape of a World War Two machine gun. He unfolds the tripod, places the unloaded weapon on a table and pulls back the cocking handle. The boys crane forward. Mahmood pulls the trigger; a sharp snap rings out.

As for Samir Rauf, is that the school governor who was either plotting to set up his own classroom caliphate, or smeared outrageously by Michael Gove, depending on who you believe? I rather think he might be.

Mr Razzaq is a little more complicated, due to variant spellings, but he seems to have been a director of….

5) Yet another Curzon entity, The Curzon Foundation Ltd, company number 07211459. This was set up on April Fools’ Day 2010, appropriately enough, and struck-off at its own request in November 2011. Its address was UNIT 5 HIGHGATE BUSINESS CENTRE, HIGHGATE ROAD, BIRMINGHAM, B12 8EA, which was also the final resting place of 07163796 above, and before that it was based at 1 Victoria Square. As well as Razzaq, it had another director, Mohammed Hanif, presumably the same man found in 07163796. You will not be surprised to know its filings were also late.

Razzaq seems to have been a director of Xpress Healthcare Ltd and possibly also Easy Lettings Ltd and a law firm, and maybe more. Alternatively it might be this guy who seems to be a property developer. (It’s always property developers.) I’m guessing he’s the money, as he doesn’t seem to be in the news ever.

You’ll notice that although there is a Foundation and Education and a couple of Initiatives, there is no Institute. Dan Davies points out on twitter that this is because calling yourself an Institute is illegal in itself.

A question, though? Is Mohammed Hanif the Mohammed Hanif who is a Labour councillor for Dudley? If so he’s got some explaining to do as his declaration of interests says nothing about them, but I think the councillor is this man and our Hanif is this one. There are plenty of options – drugs farmer is one, but he’s 52 and our man is 46. A Mohammed Hanif from Birmingham was a mortgage broker until he was banned in 2009 as a fraudster and tax-evader, which would be fun and might explain why none of these people manage to FILE THEIR DAMN ACCOUNTS on time. A man from Walsall who has been banned from operating buses. Here’s a LinkedIn profile for a Mohammed Hanif described as “Director, Operations for the Curzon Institute”, which is uninformative but does substantiate the link between this Curzon entity and Afzal Amin’s.

Or maybe Inspector Mohammed Hanif (Inspector and National coordinator of the Muslim Police Association)? I think we may have a winner, because he joined the force in 1992. If he’s our man he would have been 23, which is a sensible age for a probationer cop. Are cops allowed to have outside business interests?

And finally, perhaps convicted mortgage fraudster Stephen Yaxley-Lennon might not have been entirely honest with the Mail. Here’s the Dudley News from the 26th of February.

Afzal Amin, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Dudley North, added: “The event was very peaceful, it was the calmest EDL event I have ever seen.”

I bet it was. After all:

Chief Supt Johnson said the force did not organise the event but it was important to have “an element of control”. He said he understood why people were fearful but said he hoped the way the event was controlled would give residents the confidence to carry on as normal

That’s Chief Superintendent Chris Johnson, named in the Amin/SYL tapes. So Project Biryani really did go into action after all. And guess who else is here?

Councillor Mohammed Hanif also praised the police for the work they did before the event, reassuring the local Muslim community of what to expect on the day.

For it is he! I wonder if he’s related to the cop? Anyway, the Dudley News piece reminded me of this:

Because somebody has to stay in control…

More questions on the Biryani Project.

Randy McDonald, and probably others, seem to have found the Afzal Amin piece baffling, so I thought I’d draft a brief explainer as follows.

Afzal Amin, potential Tory MP and ex-army officer, tried to incite the EDL to stage a provocative demonstration in his heavily Muslim constituency during the campaign, while also inciting a group of radical-ish Muslims to protest the EDL. He then tried to get the EDL to call off the demo (that he incited) when he asked. The point was to create a situation in which Amin could appear at the last minute and resolve the conflict without a nasty ruck between EDL football thugs and semi-jihadis, presumably vastly adding to his prestige and authority and getting him elected.

Obviously, as this involved the EDL backing down and CAVING IN TO THE TERRORISTS, or maybe just COMPROMISING WITH THE SYSTEM, they needed a big side-payment. Amin promised their leaders money or possibly jobs, plus support to integrate the EDL into respectable politics, and also offered to pay rank-and-file EDL activists hard cash to campaign for him. Using hired canvassers at an election is illegal in the UK in itself. He also seems to have had ambitions to roll out the process elsewhere in the UK, and to be inspired by David Kilcullen/Galula/etc counterinsurgency theory. Unfortunately for him, he was caught – somehow – by the Mail on Sunday‘s investigations team, which managed to video him conspiring with the EDL in a curry house.

A really interesting question is where he was going to get the money to pay off the EDL (and presumably also his vaguely edgy Muslims). It turns out he has an incredibly shady fake NGO, which got a no-bid contract to the tune of £120k with a bit of the government that has responsibility for counter-radicalisation policy, the CONTEST programme, incidentally headed by a political buddy of his. So the obvious conclusion is that he planned to put the EDL, and probably the Muslims, on his NGO’s payroll and bill the expenses to the government. At which point we need to ask whether the CONTEST people knew about the whole caper and this was some sort of ill-thought out amateur spook scheme. That said, it’s not like huge irresponsibility, deceit, incredibly careless handling of public money, and the use of government resources for one’s election campaign aren’t enough to be going on with.

Before the whole affair sinks into obscurity, I think it’s worth following up some questions that are still outstanding. First of all, Amin mentioned to the EDL that he’d been meeting “some Muslim lads” regarding what I will from now on call the Biryani Project. This sounds very much like he wanted to make sure there would be an angry and at least somewhat radicalised reception committee for the planned EDL march, in order to maximise the conflict he would then solve.

Presumably, if the Biryani Project was indeed meant to serve as a model and be rolled out nationally, it would need angry Muslims just as much as it needed the EDL. Logically, if he needed to hire Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, he would also need to hire the Muslims. So that’s another group of people he’d need to pay or place in a sinecure of some sort. What did he promise them and how did he intend to deliver?

Secondly, who were these Muslims? A place to start looking would be here – via Labour candidate Kate Godfrey’s Twitter feed, it seems he tried to incite the Muslim Public Affairs Committee to insult him about his military service.

Why he bothered when Dan Hardie will insult him about his military service for the sheer pleasure of the thing is another question.

MPAC UK’s involvement needs some parsing, though. The simplest explanation is that they were the “Muslim lads”, in which case we might reason that they were involved and are accelerating away from the mess, or alternatively, if we accept they are telling the truth, that Amin was deluding himself about their involvement. Both are possible. It is also possible that he addressed himself both to MPAC UK and to some other group.

In general, we should be looking for a group around Dudley who were offered a grant, and I suspect a detailed review of the DCLG’s report and accounts (here) might be telling. I’ve yet to find anything suspicious, although I do wonder why literally the only Google hit for “Srebrenica memorial day” and the organisation DCLG thinks it gave the grant to is the DCLG accounts. That could be a clerical error, though. Anyway, the Curzon Institute’s grant is in there, and Amin says he’d been talking to the EDL for at least a year – which means he had DCLG’s money in hand when he began the project.

Meanwhile, Theresa May sets out an important counter-radicalisation initiative:

After several months of disagreement the only official anti-extremism unit to be formed immediately is an “Extremism Analysis Unit”, which set out a blacklist of individuals and organisations with whom the government and the public sector should not engage.

Presumably, except over a chicken biryani at the Celebrity Restaurant, Dudley?

Meanwhile, on the question of Amin’s career, the Wikipedia article has improved to the extent of including the London Gazette mentions for his commission, promotion, and retirement, which places him in the Education & Training Branch throughout. The “Counterinsurgency and Stabilisation Centre”, which someone asked about, is a terminology error for the Land Stabilisation and Counterinsurgency Centre, which was headed by Alexander Alderson and whose name implies it belonged to Land Command rather than the Defence Academy.

ramshackle coalition of interests: black country edition

My first thought about this story was that it was roughly what would have happened if the surviving characters at the end of Four Lions – the hopeless MP, the sinister-but-pathetic spook, the bungling police negotiator, the windbag imam – had to draw up a policy to prevent this from ever happening again. In fact, the story is much better than that.

For a start, there’s the point, now widely remarked on, that Defence Academy lecturer on counterinsurgency Afzal Amin essentially carried out a key-leader engagement with the leaders of an extremist militia, deliberately generating a serious but manageable community dispute that he could then resolve, gaining influence and authority. In Smethwick. Less Three Cups of Tea than Three Pints of Lager and a Portion of Onion Bhajis.

But there’s so much more. Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, aka fake ISAF veteran/Stone Island terrace dandy/thug “Tommy Robinson”, is meant to have given up politics and checked himself into a “deradicalisation” course via the Quilliam Foundation. Yet there he is, apparently able to order the EDL onto the streets. Curious.

And Amin promised Yaxley-Lennon that he “would never go hungry again”, as well as that the EDL would appear “reasonable” and be integrated into normal politics. The second is a matter of opinion, but the first sounds very much like an offer of hard cash or something that could be turned into cash. He also specifically offered to pay the EDL for canvassers, which is flagrantly illegal.

Right. Cash. At this point it’s probably time to turn up this story from the Daily Diana of all papers in January last year.

Amin’s company, Curzon Education Ltd., got a contract from DCLG to deliver 50 talks by “distinguished military figures” to schoolchildren about the history of soldiers from the British Empire and Commonwealth in the world wars. This was worth £120,000, and was approved by Baroness Warsi as the responsible minister on a DCLG “Cross Government Group on Anti-Muslim Hatred”, described as part of the government’s “social cohesion work”. Interestingly, Amin repeatedly refers to his scheme with Yaxley-Lennon & Co as being about “community cohesion” or “confidence-building measures”.

The project seems to have started as a wizard wheeze of Amin’s. Apparently he discussed it with Sir David Richards when he was Chief of the Defence Staff, but he waited until he left the service and became a Tory PPC to act on it further. He briefed it to Francis Maude, who routed it to Eric Pickles at DCLG, who tasked his officials. Didn’t I tell you Maude is a crucial node in the lobbying network?

Amin is an old political buddy of Warsi, so presumably she introduced him to Maude. The job was never put out to tender, although Pickles’ officials beat Amin down from £500,000 to £120,000, amounting to a generous £685 hourly rate. In parallel to this, it seems, he was also angling for a free school, so Michael Gove and friends will have been involved in the lobbying process.

Asked about it by the Daily Di, Amin denied he took any salary from “the Institute”. But the Institute – the Curzon Institute – is of course not the same thing as Curzon Education Ltd., which is company number 08631266. (It has never filed accounts.) Admittedly it is limited by guarantee, so it cannot make a profit, but that doesn’t stop it paying salaries, so this is a non-denial denial.

Curzon Institute? Whassat? Well. Here is an incredibly thin and amateurish website, which names precisely three individuals involved with it. All are described as working on some specific project, rather than the institute itself. One of them also helps to run the HALO Trust mine-clearance charity, another is Afzal Amin, and the third is basically some guy. This is what it says it does:

The Curzon Institute’s vision is to be the preferred partner in the provision of advice, products and services to all agencies and organisations that work with UK and European minority communities and who employ personnel abroad.

And yes, it’s named after comically pompous imperialist Lord Curzon:

Lord Curzon was a patriot, a formidable visionary, an able ruler of disparate communities and all the while a humble servant of our nation

I’m not sure Curzon’s mother would have thought him humble. Here he is, arriving at a massive state ceremony he put on to honour…himself.

DelhiDurbar_LordCurzon

As we will see, though, the institute named after him is a ramshackle coalition of interests, as he said about the Congress Party. The Curzon Institute is not a registered charity, nor is it a company. (There is a contemporaneous Curzon Initiative Ltd in Birmingham, though, a commercial company, but I have yet to find a direct link between them.) Its domain name is registered to “Identity Protect Limited”, which provides anonymous DNS registration. It does not give a street address. It is a wanktank in the purest form. But it is a wanktank that has some damned interesting job adverts.

Have you served in the British Police or the British Armed Forces? Are you interested in a very well paid and exciting career opportunity as an international trainer and mentor? The Curzon Institute’s Consultancy Branch is pleased to be recruiting retiring and retired Police Officers and Armed Forces personnel for work overseas. If you are interested, if you want to take on this challenge, then send in your CV with full career and educational history and a covering letter. We welcome all applications and a working knowledge of Arabic or French would be helpful.

Seems legit, as they say. Now Afzal Amin’s statements since the Mail on Sunday burst the story suggest he was in touch with Yaxley-Lennon and friends for at least a year, and that he had some ambitions to scale the project up, taking it on the road around the UK.

For the past year, I have been undertaking discussions with Tommy Robinson and more recently with the leadership of the EDL to prevent further inter-communal tensions and violence. I recognised that there was an opportunity to promote better community cohesion between various communities in Dudley and that this may serve as a model for further dispute resolution in other towns and cities.

If it was going to cost £250 per EDL “canvasser” per week, as Yaxley-Lennon and Amin agreed, presumably the leadership would want paying too. Amin said as much. So who was going to be paying? I suspect, and this is now speculation, that they would be put on the Curzon Thing’s payroll, and the costs would be billed to some DCLG project or other, probably under the banner of counter-radicalisation. Amin mentions repeatedly that he contacted the police chief, too, so did he think he had official approval for his caper?

So we have several different themes here – ill-thought out and inappropriate spook plotting, use of government resources for party politics, a hell of a lot of general perversity and deceit, and some quite shameless grant-hunting. It’s emblematic, I tell you. In the light of yet more Shapps/Green, I think it’s the spiv element that’s the key.

“Ok so Mr Financial Regulator I really wanna pretend to be the revenue for my campaign”

So the Chancellor has been dabbling in retail brokerage, with a little push-polling scattered on top. This is pretty much as shady as we’ve come to expect from him, but I was interested to see this:

Those engaging in financial promotions are meant to be authorised to do so by the Financial Conduct Authority. A Treasury aide said: “HM Treasury officials checked and confirmed this is FCA-compliant.”

So you mean someone at the Treasury asked the FCA’s opinion? Huh, that sounds interesting and should have left a paper trail. Zing went the strings. So I just filed a Freedom of Information Act request for any correspondence regarding the Osletters. I did a bunch of fancy drafting to deal with some of the obvious excuses (not him, or the Treasury, but a SPAD, not a SPAD but his parliamentary or constituency office, etc) but if that interests you, you can read it at the link.

Strangely enough this is the first of these I’ve actually issued.