In a major cash-for-access scandal, a 50-year-old Indian-origin Conservative Party activist and fund-raiser was thrown out of the party after he was caught boasting in a video that he could provide Prime Minister David Cameron's personal mobile phone number or a dinner with him for 10,000 pounds.
Rickie Sehgal -- chairman of the British Asian Conservative Link (BACL) -- said donors could dine with the prime minister and raise any issue they wanted, the Daily Mail reported Sunday. "Those who pay 10,000 pounds a year get Cameron's mobile," Sehgal told an undercover reporter.
When confronted about his claims, Sehgal said he was "highly embarrassed" to have been caught boasting, which he said he had exaggerated to impress the undercover reporter. Sehgal was sacked from the party Saturday after senior officials studied the evidence.
Sehgal was recently photographed whispering into the prime minister's ear at the Tories' Winter Ball, where tickets cost up to 1,000 pounds. The BACL website features pictures of Sehgal with senior officials, including Home Secretary Theresa May, Attorney General Dominic Grieve and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell as well as London Mayor Boris Johnson.
The daily began the investigation following a tip-off from a legal source who said Asian businessmen were using BACL to gain access to Tory ministers. An undercover reporter posing as a businessman met Sehgal and said he was keen to join the BACL's exclusive 1000 Club, which the website claimed could give members access to ministers and MPs for business and personal benefits.
The meeting took place at the headquarters of Sehgal's IT company, Transputec Computers Plc, in northwest London. Sehgal claimed he had access to Cameron to the extent that he can lobby on behalf of parliamentary candidates with an Asian background.
"By association with BACL, we take advantage of positive discrimination that exists today to say there aren't enough Bangladeshi MPs. I might go straight to the prime minister, or the central party," Sehgal said. He also boasted of links to other ministers, especially Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Lord Andrew Feldman, the joint chairs of the party. He said links to the pair gave him access to Cameron.
He claimed he knew all Asian Tory politicians, including Priti Patel, MP from Witham, and Alok Sharma, MP from Reading West, both of whom were helped by BACL in their election campaigns. Sehgal is the managing director of Transputec Computers Plc. Transputec has IT contracts with both BACL and the ministry of justice. The company has an annual turnover of 20 million pounds, and reported 375,000 pounds in profits last year.
Its parent company, Investact, is registered in the Isle of Man. Sehgal's wife Pramilla, 52, is listed as a secretary of the Transputec company, while his younger brother Sunil, 48, is listed as a director.
Sehgal is a graduate in computer science and physics from Chelsea College, London University. He and his wife and their two children, aged 25 and 23, live in a country house in Iver, Buckinghamshire. When confronted with the evidence of his conversation, Sehgal said he was "highly embarrassed".
"We meet politicians because we are a political organisation, to have lunches, dinner, things like that. In that context, you would be able to meet," he said. He said the club of donors was a reference to the fact that BACL was being turned into a new organisation, the Conservative Friends of India (CFI), which is expected to be launched by Cameron in the House of Commons later this year.
"It has been indicated to me that he (Cameron) would potentially be launching the CFI. That would be the first point that there would be any contact with him," said Sehgal. Sehgal admitted he had exaggerated his influence to "impress" the reporter, and it was "completely wrong" to say the prime minister's phone number could be bought.
"It doesn't happen. I was boasting. There are many other people that we know who would just like to part with money and go and talk to Cameron, whoever it is, and actually that does not exist in reality. I myself don't get to have lunch with Cameron," he said.
"I did not want him to think that direct access is provided, because it isn't. David Cameron and I don't really know each other. Please don't think of me as a crook or anything like that," Sehgal said.
A Conservative spokesman said: "BACL is an organisation independent of the Conservative Party and Sehgal had no authority to make these patently absurd suggestions. They were made without the knowledge or approval of anyone in the party and, as he has since admitted, they were nothing more than idle boasts."