Probe �5m Tory donation ‘now’

THE elections watchdog has been urged to complete an investigation into Conservative party donations totalling nearly �5m before the next General Election.

Parliamentary hopefuls Mike Hobday and Paul Zukowskyj have called on the Electoral Commission to promptly conclude its probe into the �4,736,297.42 given to the party by Bearwood Corporate Services since February 2003.

The commission is reviewing whether or not the cash – which included a payment of �15,000 to Welwyn Hatfield Conservatives in April 2005 – came from a UK-based company.

The legality of these donations has been questioned due to confusion over the tax status of the company’s owner Lord Ashcroft, who was raised in Belize and is understood to have extensive business interests in the country.

An Electoral Commission spokesman said it would be wrong to speculate as to when the investigation – which began in February – would be completed.

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But Mr Hobday, the Labour parliamentary candidate for Welwyn Hatfield, said: “This sort of delay is completely unacceptable.

“The public, quite rightly, have an ever increasing demand for complete transparency about the funding of political parties and rightly expect an investigation like this to be decided well in advance of the General Election.”

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Mr Hobday described the �15,000 donation as a significant amount the local Conservative party could spend on campaigning in the run up to the next General Election.

He said: “It would be more than the Welwyn Hatfield Labour party gets to spend in a whole year.”

Lib Dem prospective MP Paul Zukowskyj said: “We are in the same position that the Labour Party is in.

“�15,000 is more than our annual budget.”

He added: “If we don’t complete the investigation before the General Election it leaves a cloud hanging over the Conservative party’s finances.”

But in a rebuke to Mr Hobday, Welwyn Hatfield Conservative agent Benedict McAleenan said: “The timetable of a review like this should be left to the independent Electoral Commission, not meddled with by Labour politicians.

“So it’s surprising to see them trying to interfere with an independent commission’s work.”

He added: “Unlike the other local mainstream parties, our accounts are published every year online.

“We’re as transparent as possible about our finances and donations because we don’t have anything to hide.

“Perhaps it’s time the other parties should follow suit and reveal their own party coffers?”

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