Restaurant boss Nighat Awan arrested
Nighat Awan - a business woman and the sister of property developers Tariq Siddiqi and Pervaiz Naviede - who is the driving force behind the hugely successful Manchester-based restaurant chain Shere Khan, has been arrested by police investigating the smuggling of illegral immigrants into the UK. Government race adviser Nighat Awan 52, one of the country's richest entrepreneurs who had close links with Cherie Blair, was interviewed by officers from Merseyside Police, on suspicion of conspiracy to facilitate illegal immigration, and has been bailed to be questioned again in November.
But a spokesman for the charity fundraiser who lives in Hale Barnes, near Altrincham said today she strenuously denied doing anything wrong, and had voluntarily helped police with their enquiries.
In February this year, her husband Rafique Awan 54, who started the Shere Khan restaurant chain in Rusholme, was arrested by officers involved in the same operation. He dismissed as 'rubbish', claims that he had been involved in an alleged illegal immigrants employment racket.
The spokesman for Mrs Awan, who is understood to be en route home to the UK after a trip to Mecca, said today: "She is totally in the dark about why she has been questioned, and totally bewildered by it all. Far from being involved in anything illegal, she has worked for a long time in the past as a human rights charity worker.
Early this year the Awan's Indian restaurant empire was targeted by police and their £4m mansion searched by officers who removed documents and computer equipment.
It is understood that Mr Awan was in Pakistan at the time of the raid and arrangements were made for him to be interviewed on his return. Mrs Awan spoke to police at the time, but was not arrested.
One of the country's richest businesswomen, Mrs Awan was last year appointed head of a Department of Trade and Industry-backed group to support black and ethnic minority businesses.
She has had to overcome a series of health problems including throat cancer, and her spokesman said today the upset caused by renewed police action had made her ill.
Mrs Awan was awarded the OBE three years ago for her export and overseas charity work. Cherie Blair, then wife of then Prime Minister Tony Blair, was guest of honour at a garden party held by Mrs Awan, and the entrepreneur and her family have also toured Number 10 Downing Street.
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|Nighat Awan - a Government race adviser with close links to Cherie Blair is at the centre of a major investigation into an alleged illegal immigrant racket.|
Mrs Awan, 51, spoke to police while they carried out a search of her home.
Officers wearing yellow high-visibility jackets and protective headgear arrived in nine vehicles at the Awans' sprawling mansion on Friday evening. At the same time, restaurants and premises linked to Mrs Awan - dubbed the "Curry Queen' - were also raided in Liverpool, Manchester, Cheshire, Sheffield and Kent. Officials from the Department of Work and Pensions were also involved.
A neighbour said: "It happened at around 5pm. Suddenly the police arrived in six cars with three vans. Soon Mrs Awan's home was filled with police and plain-clothes officials. You could see them through the upstairs windows and in the hallway. Very soon after that family members started arriving in expensive cars, one a Bentley. One was very agitated, waving his arms in the air. These are very wealthy people and this is a very quiet road - nothing like this ever happens here."
Shere Khan was set up by Mrs Awan's husband in Manchester's famous curry mile on Wilmslow Road, Rusholme, in 1987. They now operate ten restaurants. One diner at their branch at Manchester's Trafford Centre, where 13 men were arrested, said: "Police arrived in dozens around 5pm and shut the place down despite people eating in there. They were wearing gloves and searching the whole place.
Detective Superintendent Steve Moore, of
Merseyside police, said the raids followed "a lengthy investigation into abuse of the immigration system",
including allegations of facilitating illegal immigration.
|© The Manchester Evening News
From printing T-shirts to £30m food fortune
Nighat Awan is one of the country's most successful and high-profile businesswomen. A mother of three, she has successfully fought cancer and heads one of Manchester's most recognisable Asian food businesses, the Shere Khan Group.
From a modest start printing T-shirts, hard work, combined with a supportive and wealthy family, have earned her a fortune, estimated at é30m, and the trappings of the millionaire Cheshire set. Her trail-blazing business career has also earned the diminutive 51-year-old numerous honours and awards, most notably an OBE in 2004 for her services to export and charity.
A year later she rubbed shoulders with Cherie Blair and the Duchess of Cornwall as she collected the Entrepreneur of the Year title at the Asian Women of Achievement Awards in London.
She sits on a number of high-profile business committees and panels including the North West Regional Development Agency's ethnic minority business forum and the CBI north west regional council of business leaders.
There is nothing subtle about her wealth. She drives a distinctive top-of-the-range Mercedes sports car with a personalised number plate and lives in a £3m mansion on one of the most exclusive roads in Hale Barns, where neighbours include Manchester City legend Colin Bell.
She has three brothers, all of whom have made their mark in the business world. Younger brother Pervaiz Naviede has surpassed even Nighat's achievements, having amassed a £145m fortune by restoring and re-selling former council tower blocks through his Legendary Property Company.
Another brother, Tariq Siddiqi, also enjoys the trappings of the high life and is a former business associate of leading Labour politician David Blunkett via a company called DNA Biosciences, which appointed Mr Blunkett as a director just before the 2005 General Election. Mr Blunkett was later rapped by parliamentary watchdogs for failing to disclose the directorship.
Another brother, Muhammed Naviede, was jailed for nine years in 1995 for fraud and deception involving £45m of bank loans. Naviede was the owner and boss of Altrincham-based trade finance company Arrows which crashed in July 1991. It went under owing almost £100m to various banks.
Nighat Awan's business career began at the age of just 18 when she started printing Bay City Rollers T-shirts at her father's textile factory.
She opened the first Shere Khan restaurant on Wilmslow Road, Rusholme, in 1987 with her husband Rafique.
The chain is now 10-strong, and includes a curry sauces business and a franchise arm.
Last year the reputation of the group suffered its first knock when it was fined £40,000 after a diner found a live cockroach nestling in his poppadoms. Health inspectors who visited the restaurant on the Curry Mile catalogued a litany of faults, including an infestation of insects and filthy floors and work surfaces.