November 2013 was a hectic month for Meghan Markle. Striving to broaden her recognition beyond North America, where she had won modest acclaim for her role in TV legal drama Suits, she duly jetted off to London.
There, the actress attended a red carpet film premiere in Leicester Square, met a tabloid gossip columnist for drinks and handed out prizes at the Global Gift Gala — a glittering charity fundraiser for under-privileged women and children.
Beguiling in a black, off-the-shoulder dress, her glossy hair swept back to highlight her pendant earrings, among the guests with whom she was photographed was the hunky model Oliver Cheshire, boyfriend of singer Pixie Lott.
As Meghan swanned around the ballroom at the ME Hotel on the Strand, however, an altogether more obscure young man made a beeline for her.
She would have known nothing about Mansoor ‘Manni’ Hussain. She probably didn’t even catch his name. But as the paparazzi lenses were trained on her, she draped an arm around his designer-jacketed shoulder, and the moment was captured for posterity.
She would have known nothing about Mansoor ‘Manni’ Hussain. She probably didn’t even catch his name
This week, both parties must wish they hadn’t courted the cameras so assiduously that evening.
When Hussain was unmasked as a suspected money-launderer for a murderous gangland boss and other violent criminals, Meghan must have felt considerable embarrassment (though her blushes were shared by many more celebrities who unwittingly posed with him, including Simon Cowell, Beyonce, Nicole Scherzinger, Sir Philip Green and lingerie tycoon Michelle Mone).
As for Hussain, his desperation to be photographed with actors, pop stars and tycoons, then post the images on Instagram and Twitter — along with other emblems of his playboy lifestyle, such as his fleet of Rolls-Royces and bling-adorned homes and offices — has had far more damaging repercussions.
His craving for vicarious fame may have helped to draw his ill-gotten fortune to the attention of West Yorkshire Police, who in turn alerted the National Crime Agency to his links with some of the North’s most notorious and violent criminals.
After a two-year investigation, the NCA served Hussain with an Unexplained Wealth Order — a new legal tool that allows the courts to confiscate money and property whose origins can’t be explained, regardless of whether the owner has been convicted of any offence.
Known as ‘McMafia Orders’ after the BBC gangland drama, they came into force in 2018 and have been used to seize the £30 million assets held by the London-based wife of a jailed Azerbaijani banker.
However, this is the first time one has been used successfully to forfeit the alleged proceeds of organised crime.
As for Hussain, his desperation to be photographed with actors, pop stars and tycoons, then post the images on Instagram and Twitter has had far more damaging repercussions. Here he is pictured with Sir Philip Green and Simon Cowell
This week, it was revealed that Leeds-based Hussain, 40, has surrendered 45 properties and four plots of land in Cheshire, Yorkshire and London’s Knightsbridge, together worth more than £9 million, plus nearly £600,000 in cash. The settlement, hailed by the NCA as ‘a landmark’ in the fight against serious crime, has left the man they describe as a ‘professional enabler’ to drug-dealers, violent robbers and fraudsters with just three properties in Britain, all heavily mortgaged.
As I have discovered, however, Hussain is not quite on his uppers. He has managed to keep a luxurious apartment in Marbella. Spanish property records show he bought it for £443,000 about 12 years ago, through one of his web of companies, Sabir Tahir Estates. Intriguingly, says a well-placed source, Hussain was introduced to the estate agent who sold him this bolthole by the late Max Clifford, the paedophile PR king, who owned a three-bedroomed flat in the same gated complex, Las Alamandas, in Marbella.
This is no coincidence. Before his arrest for indecently assaulting young girls in 2012, the disgraced publicist — who died in prison in 2017 — had taken on the publicity-seeking Hussain as a client, with a promise to raise his profile.
Hussain paid Clifford to promote him as a business wunderkind in the mould of Richard Branson: a self-made property magnate who had supposedly accumulated £350 million by his early thirties and planned to launch a cut-price airline and global hotel chain.
Whether Clifford ever questioned the true source of his smooth-talking client’s wealth we will never know. However, as part of their image-building deal he secured Hussain VIP invitations to the black-tie charity balls, showbiz parties and sporting events where those reckless celebrity photos were invariably taken.
After they became neighbours in Marbella they are also said to have met socially, though there is no suggestion Hussain knew of his spin-master’s sexual proclivities.
Before the UWO was made public this week, Hussain vanished from his stamping ground in West Yorkshire. When we called at one of the properties his company still owns according to Land Registry records — a Grade II-listed Georgian building in central Leeds, bought for £1.95 million and converted into a glitzy head office topped by a penthouse apartment — the place was deserted.
This week, it was revealed that Leeds-based Hussain, 40, has surrendered 45 properties and four plots of land in Cheshire, Yorkshire and London’s Knightsbridge. Pictured: Hussain with lingerie tycoon Michelle Mone
And at his family’s humble terrace house in Armley near the city’s prison, a burly man who answered the door claimed menacingly that we had the wrong address. The speculation is that Hussain may be on the Costa del Sol, perhaps hiding from the vicious thugs whose profits provided the ‘seed capital’ for a business empire spanning dozens of companies, the NCA claims.
It seems a plausible theory. For Hussain is said to have invested money for characters such as Mohammad ‘Meggy’ Khan, a sinister Bradford crime-lord serving 26 years for deliberately running a man over in a car and battering him with a cudgel as he lay dying on the pavement.
One suspects they might not take kindly to the alleged launderer who lost the millions they had entrusted him with.
Not least because Hussain lived high on the hog and his arrogance played straight into the hands of the NCA investigators.
The threat posed by his underworld associates was spelled out by Mr Justice Murray, the judge who granted the UWO.
Explaining why he initially made the order under a cloak of privacy, he said: ‘The organised crime gangs involved in this case are known for violence. There was a genuine and well-founded concern that publicity… might give rise to a threat to Mr Hussain’s person.’ A source close to the case put it more succinctly: ‘We hear Manni has gone to ground, but he might be under the ground soon, now that the guys he deals with realise he has lost them £10 million.’
A chilling summation. So what do we know of the real man behind Hussain’s flash, attention-grabbing façade?
How did this unshaven and hardly menacing man become the alleged banker for the evil ‘Meggy’ and five other criminals identified by the NCA?
Among his other alleged associates was Dennis Slade, a cash-in-transit robbery gang boss who rammed a security van with a tractor, making off with hundreds of thousands of pounds; and Slade’s ex-wife Maxine Valentine, who was jailed for living the high-life on his ‘takings.’ She even bought a Bentley once owned by Jay Kay, leader of the pop group Jamiroquai. As Hussain is a ‘clean-skin’ who’s never been in court — his one brush with the law came when he was cautioned for battery in 2009 — his back story relies largely on his self-aggrandising website and Clifford-spun interviews.
The youngest of eight children raised in a grim Leeds neighbourhood, he says his quest for wealth and acclaim began when his father died, leaving his mother Zarina, now 83, to raise a large family alone.
‘My dad died when I was 11 and it had a massive effect on my life. I guess it made me work even harder to make him proud,’ he once said. ‘He was very strict and instilled a good work ethic in us all. But he was a really nice man, too. That’s one of the main things I’ve taken into business. I’m always nice.
‘A lot of your success has to do with how you treat people. It’s important that people can trust you in the business world. And I never take “no” for answer.’ The people whom Hussain threatened with violence and blackmail when acquiring his property empire, according to the NCA, might agree with the final sentence, at least, of his gushing self-appraisal.
By the age of 18, Hussain claims, he was running three children’s clothing shops, in Bramley and Leeds. He has never explained how he got the funds to buy them.
At 19, he sold the shops and went into residential property, renovating small terrace houses before specialising in student accommodation. By the age of 24 he had built his own home, a £1.9 million mansion in an affluent part of Leeds. Recalling all this, in a 2010 magazine interview with Yorkshire’s most successful young entrepreneurs, Hussain, managing director of a fast-rising company called Cubic Acquisitions, listed his favourite books as biographies of Richard Branson, Philip Green and Simon Cowell.
Las Alamandas Luxury gated apartment Complex near Puerto Banus where Mansoor Hussain’s company own a property
Asked who would play him in a film, he named Al Pacino, perhaps tellingly, given the actor’s portrayal of Mafia kingpins in films such as Scarface and The Godfather.
His chosen Mastermind subject would be cricket, he said. A capable club player, he turned out regularly for Leeds Modernians XI, where an official this week described him as unremarkable and said he was ‘shocked’ to hear of his criminal links. Yet there was a gaping hole in Hussain’s various accounts of his jet-propelled rise, according to Andy Lewis, the NCA’s head of asset denial.
‘In 2002, or thereabouts, an injection of seed-funding was put into his businesses that we believe was dirty. It came from various criminals,’ he told me.
The NCA first investigated Hussain with view to a criminal prosecution, which could have brought him a 14-year jail sentence. Because bank documents relating to his early transactions had been destroyed, however, it would have been difficult and time-consuming to prove his guilt beyond doubt before a jury. Therefore the agency decided to seek an Unexplained Wealth Order, which reverses the burden of proof onto a person accused of acquiring illicit wealth.
The order was granted in July, 2019. There then followed a year-long wrangle over which assets Hussain would be allowed to keep. He might have fared better had he used his millions to hire a high-powered lawyer to haggle with the NCA. Instead, he chose to represent himself, handing the NCA a 76-page witness statement and 127 volumes of evidence in an effort to prove his business was legitimate.
It was a monumental error. ‘Unfortunately for him, within that [paperwork] we found information to investigate other grounds of inquiry,’ says Mr Lewis. ‘He came to the table and tried to negotiate, but we had a red line that we weren’t going to cross.’
Court documents reveal the welter of evidence the NCA had amassed to support their claim that Hussain — who called himself ‘Manni Boss’ — was a money manager for the Yorkshire Mob.
For two years he had bankrolled ‘Meggy’ Khan’s son’s private school fees, totalling £10,000. He also paid a £134,000 compensation order on behalf of Khan’s mortgage fraudster brother, Shamsher. He and Khan travelled together to Malaga on a 24-hour trip, purportedly to attend a nightclub opening.
Hussain openly drove the gang boss to and from Leeds Crown Court during Dennis Slade’s armed robbery trial, and was stopped several times by police with Khan in the passenger seat of one of his luxury cars.
Slade even lived, apparently rent-free, at Hussain’s mock-Tudor mansion (and indeed, this week his name was still to be found on the electoral register).
He also provided the violent robber with a luxury flat on his release from a nine-year jail stretch and chauffeured his ex-wife Valentine around. He seemed to believe he was untouchable.
Meanwhile, the self-styled whizz kid, who listed the Queen’s bank Coutts among his ‘financial partners’ on his company website, and burnished his credentials as a ‘philanthropist’, claimed to have a negligible income and paid barely any tax.
Between 1998/9 and 2003/4, when he ran the three shops and began buying properties all over the county, he told HM Revenue and Customs he had earned just £500. And for two of those years his declared income was nil.
If we believe him, his biggest-earning year came in 2015/16, when he received £30,280 in dividends.
Though Hussain has no wife or family — telling friends his career was too time-consuming to sustain a long-term relationship — this was hardly sufficient to pay for his frequent jaunts to Dubai and Las Vegas, and his penchant for expensive, classic cars.
Nor for his Moschino suits, Cartier watches, Louboutin shoes and expensively-whitened teeth.
Given the shadowy circles in which he allegedly operated, there remains a million-dollar question.
Why did ‘Manni Boss’ continually draw attention to himself by posting all those inane celebrity photos? As Meghan’s fame grew, he reposted the picture with her several times.
What possessed a man whose business demanded discretion and a below-the-radar profile to behave like a star-struck groupie?
This week, Hussain’s former associates offered two theories. Either the boy from the Leeds back streets became fatally intoxicated by fame and success; or he deliberately raised his profile with the aim of ‘hiding in plain sight’.
Whatever the truth, he is a ruined man — and even if he escapes the wrath of Yorkshire’s underworld, celebrities will never again let him sidle up to them as the paparazzi cameras flash.
Additional Reporting: Rebecca Camber, Mark Branagan and Gerard Couzens in Spain