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Samosa specialist is UK's richest Asian woman

FIVE WOMEN, with a collective worth of pounds 155m, now figure among the 30 richest Asians in Britain. Top of the list, which is published today, is Perween Warsi, who founded a company 13 years ago to make chilled and frozen goods, and is now said to be worth pounds 35m.

Arriving in Britain at the age of 17 for an arranged marriage to her husband, Talib, a GP, Mrs Warsi despaired of ever finding a decent samosa in the local supermarket in Derby. So, in the tradition of all great businesses, she started making her own, setting up S&A Foods - named after the initials of her two sons. Her customers now include Asda, Safeway, Whitbread and supermarkets in France.

Two years ago, Mrs Warsi, 42, was awarded an MBE, and has also been nominated Woman Entrepreneur of the Year. Her husband gave up his medical practice to work with her in her new venture.

Mrs Warsi is the highest placed woman on the list of 200 richest Asians which is published today by the newspaper Eastern Eye. Her exact placing - and those of everyone else on the list - will be revealed today.

Sarwar Ahmed, who compiled the annual list, said he was stunned by the number of women in the running. There are 16 women in total, compared to 10 last year.

Also featuring in the top five richest women are Bobby Dhillon, who runs a chain of hotels with her brother Tej, and is said to be worth pounds 30m, Meena Pathak, of the Wigan-based spice company, who is also worth pounds 30m, and Avneet Sahni, who at the age of 28 has built up a successful computer company with her husband, and is worth around pounds 30m.

Gulshen Bhatia, 65, a widow from Tanzania who invested her life savings in a small London hotel 15 years ago, and now owns the Great Western Hotel, next to Paddington Station, is worth pounds 30m.

Mr Ahmed said the list had changed dramatically from last year: "There are more and more women there, and some, like Perween, are there in their own right rather than as part of the family business.

"The list acts as a spotlight on the whole Asian community in Britain, and we can see that women are increasingly coming out of the home and moving into business.

"They are becoming freer and more independent and there is less resistance to them doing that."

He said the women acted as powerful role models to the rest of the community, as they juggled high-profile jobs with looking after small children.

"Bobby Dhillon is only 30 years old, but she has small children and she is proving to other Asian women that they can do it as well."

He said that, unlike the Sunday Times rich list, which is often compiled without the participants' help, Asians were proud to be on the list, and volunteered information.

"Last year the person at position 200 was worth pounds 2m, but this year that has increased to pounds 5m, and although it is partly that people are being very successful, it is also because many more people come forward and want to be included," he said.