Monday, April 03, 2006

Chinese heroin baron 'funded Tories'


An alleged Chinese heroin trafficker was named in the Commons this afternoon as one of the people who had secretly loaned the Conservative Party cash.

At the same time, a senior Scotland Yard detective said he had not ruled out criminal charges as a result of his investigation into the “cash for ermine” allegations involving the Labour Party and Downing Street.

During Prime Minister's Questions, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott pledged the Government would press ahead with reform of the House of Lords as the cash for ermine row threatens to boil over again.

Mr Prescott, standing in for Tony Blair, said hereditary peers had no place in lawmaking in the 21st century. And he gave his personal view there would have to be state funding of political parties to prevent allegations of patronage which were causing concern right across the political spectrum.

“I want to make clear our manifesto pledge of the absurdity in the 21st century that hereditary peers still have a major role in making the laws of our country.”

Some Tory backbenchers tried to shout down state party funding but Mr Prescott said opposition parties received help with parliamentary costs: “I hear some people say `no' but the Short money is a state financing and obviously that hasn't been turned down by anybody.”

Labour's David Winnick said: “By doing its job the House of Lords Appointments Commission has brought about full disclosure of political loans - and we have given the names, unlike the other side - a full public debate which is very useful about party donation and apparently a further stage of House of Lords reform very shortly. All in a fortnight - isn't it good work?”

Said Mr Prescott: “I am sure that the recent stories about loans to political parties have caused concern on both sides of the House. I don't think there's any doubt about that.

“I do notice on the one hand people don't like the idea of wealthy people financing parties but they're equally strong apparently against state funding of political parties, though frankly that has always been my position for a long time and I think we will have to increasingly move towards a form of state financing.”

Another Labour MP Martin Salter raised the stakes when he named “Chinese heroin baron Ma Sik-Chun” as a Tory Party financier.

Mr Prescott's comments came as the senior Scotland Yard detective leading the inquiry into the so-called Labour Party cash-for-honours affair warned he had not ruled out corruption charges. In a letter to MPs who are also investigating claims that peerages were sold for political donations, Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Yates said that prosecution was “the only credible deterrent for any briber.”

“While it may be too early for us to widen our investigation into the arena of corruption, I certainly have not ruled this out.”

Mr Yates said his inquiries were at a very early stage and charges were not imminent.

By Graham Dines


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