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Tags: Britain | politics

Senior British Ex-Ministers Accused Over 'Cash for Access'

Monday, 23 February 2015 08:19 AM

Two British former foreign ministers were suspended from their parties on Monday after claims that they offered to use their positions to help a private company for cash in an undercover investigation.

Jack Straw, Labor foreign secretary when Britain helped invade Iraq in 2003, and Malcolm Rifkind, a senior figure in Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party, were accused in a probe by the Daily Telegraph newspaper and Channel 4 television.

Both deny any wrongdoing but are the latest in a wave of lawmakers to be accused of seeking to profit from offering private companies privileged access to advance their interests.

The allegations come 10 weeks before a knife-edge general election in Britain and threaten to make political ethics a campaign issue.

In a sting by undercover reporters, the two politicians are said to have offered to act on behalf of a fictitious Hong Kong-based company at a price of at least £5,000 (6,800 euros, $7,700) a day.

Rifkind reportedly said he could arrange "useful access" to every British ambassador globally.

Straw is said to have used his parliamentary office for meetings about consultancy work and claimed that he had operated "under the radar" to help change EU rules in work for a commodities firm.

While members of parliament are not banned from topping up their earnings by working for private companies, there are strict rules around how they should do so, including declaring all interests on a public register and not making use of parliamentary resources.

Five years ago, Cameron warned that corporate lobbying was the "next big scandal" waiting to hit parliament.

Straw has suspended himself from the Labor party in parliament, while Rifkind has had the Conservative whip suspended, meaning both will sit in the House of Commons as independent lawmakers for now.

They now face investigations by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, which investigates allegations of rule breaking by MPs.

This can lead to penalties such as a temporary suspension from the House of Commons or compelling an apology.

Straw and Rifkind took to the airwaves Monday to defend themselves.

Straw insisted he had been discussing work he might do after stepping down as an MP after the May 7 general election following 36 years in office.

"There are very, very strict rules here about what members of parliament can and can't do," he told BBC radio.

"I absolutely kept not only to their letter but also to their spirit."

Rifkind, who chairs the parliamentary committee which oversees Britain's intelligence services, vowed to fight the allegations "with all my strength."

"I didn't accept any offer. This was a preliminary discussion. I was not negotiating at all. I'm sorry, Channel 4 are very good at producing selective quotations out of context," he said on BBC radio.

Cameron's official spokesman declined to comment on whether Rifkind should remain chairman of the intelligence committee following questions by some MPs, saying that was for parliament to decide.

Labor leader Ed Miliband wrote to Cameron proposing a cap on the amount lawmakers can earn from outside interests following the news.

But Cameron does not back the view that a House of Commons "full of professional politicians with no outside experience is a good thing," the spokesman said.

The Telegraph said journalists had contacted 12 lawmakers in the investigation, six of whom did not respond and one who said his contacts were not "for sale."

The newspaper previously exposed a major scandal over MPs' lavish expenses in 2009 which revealed that lawmakers had claimed public money for everything from a floating duck house to moat cleaning.

© AFP 2022

Two British former foreign ministers were suspended from their parties on Monday after claims that they offered to use their positions to help a private company for cash in an undercover investigation
Britain, politics
Monday, 23 February 2015 08:19 AM
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