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HindustanTimes Mon,22 Sep 2014

UK Sikhs question peerage for jewellery tycoon

PTI  London, August 14, 2014
First Published: 23:05 IST(14/8/2014) | Last Updated: 23:08 IST(14/8/2014)

Sikh groups in Britain have questioned the appointment of Indian-origin jewellery tycoon Ranbir Singh Suri, who has donated more than 300,000 pounds (around Rs. 3 crore) to the Conservative Party, as a member of the House of Lords.

Lord Suri was among Prime Minister David Cameron’s list of nominees awarded with a peerage recently for his business contributions and also for his role as a leading figure of the country’s Sikh community.

However, Sikh Federation UK and Sikh Council UK have stressed that he is only seen as someone who has donated heavily to the Conservative party – more than 300,000 pounds since 2004.

“He is no leading figure in Britain’s Sikh community and he is not associated with any of the leading Sikh organisations. Many in the Sikh community simply see Lord Suri as a businessman who has donated large sums of money [to the Tories],” Sikh Federation UK said in a statement.

“The federation has been campaigning for over a decade to see more visible Sikhs in Parliament.

“On the one hand, this move is welcome, but we would prefer each of the main political parties to have Sikhs in the House of Lords who are younger, there on merit and based on what they have to offer rather than those who are seen as ‘cronies’,” it added.

In its official citation for the new peerages, the UK government described Lord Suri as a “businessman” and a “former general secretary of the Board of British Sikhs”.

But, according to a report by The Independent newspaper, the board has not existed for more than 20 years and only involved four or five people.

According to records held by Companies House in the UK, the Board of British Sikhs was incorporated in 1990 and dissolved two years later.

There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing on the part of Lord Suri, who was a magistrate for more than a decade and built up Oceanic Jewellers Limited into a successful international business after establishing it in 1976 and is now estimated to have a fortune of 40 million pounds.

“While we welcome the appointment of a Sikh to the House of Lords, the general feeling in the community is that it would have been good to have somebody who could speak on a range of issues. It would also have been good if he was known for his contributions in the Sikh community,” said Gurmel Singh, secretary general of the Sikh Council UK.

When contacted by PTI, a spokesperson at Oceanic Jewellers said there was “no comment available” on the subject.

A Number 10 spokesperson said: “All appointments to the House of Lords are vetted by the independent House of Lords Appointment Commission. Beyond his extensive career in business, Ranbir Suri has devoted the past 40 years to a range of charitable and voluntary positions, including general secretary of the Board of British Sikhs in 1991/92.”

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