ASHCROFT AFFAIR: Bradley's Statement To The Commons

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PETER BRADLEY, Labour MP for The Wrekin, told the Commons that the files he had seen were from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the FBI and the International Narcotics Bureau and had also been seen by The Times newspaper, which first published allegations over Michael Ashcroft's Belize-based interests.

Mr Bradley told MPs yesterday: "In 1989 Mr Ashcroft's name was linked to a DEA drug-trafficking inquiry that stretched across Europe, the US and Canada ... "

In 1992 a man "was arrested and jailed for laundering money gained from organised crime through Michael Ashcroft's Belize bank.

"In 1993 the DEA conducted an investigation of Belize- linked businesses, half of which were connected to Michael Ashcroft. Twelve of the 20-odd that they investigated had links to Michael Ashcroft.

"In 1994 the DEA file reports observing Michael Ashcroft taking a flight from the US to the Caribbean and it referred, and I quote, to `possible air smuggling/money- laundering under way by Michael Ashcroft'.

"And it reported also that the plane was owned and piloted by two suspected drug-traffickers."

Mr Bradley continued: "In 1996 he was the subject of another investigation.

"In 1997 a man arrested in Holland on suspicion of drugs offences gave as his address the same address in Belize as Mr Ashcroft's principal company, Belize Holdings. These are serious matters. I do not claim that Michael Ashcroft is guilty of any offence. I simply do not know."

However, he said, nor did the Tory leader, William Hague, "but he above all should be concerned about these allegations. The drip, drip, drip of disclosures is becoming a torrent which threatens to engulf the Conservative Party.

"And it is extraordinary that the Leader of the Opposition has taken no action about it." Mr Bradley demanded that Mr Hague refer Mr Ashcroft to his party's integrity and ethics committee, sack him as treasurer and return donations he had made to Tories in recent years.

"Michael Ashcroft says he will not go, so there is only man who can decide his fate and that is the man who says he runs the Conservative Party," declared Mr Bradley.

"The question is, does he dare? Does he have the courage? Can he afford, does he have the power, to sack Michael Ashcroft, because Michael Ashcroft is the man who owns the Conservative Party. His is the party that says that sleaze is a thing of the past but is running its campaign in Eddisbury on money from Belize, which tomorrow will ask the people of Eddisbury to place their trust in it.

"Does the Leader of the Opposition want it said that Michael Ashcroft is the man who defines the Conservative Party?" The saga was a "real test" of Mr Hague's leadership qualities and "he has a big decision to make".

Mr Ashcroft - who, Mr Bradley claimed, was motivated by "the ruthless pursuit of his bottom line" rather than political convictions - has said he was aware of one investigation by the DEA.

He said he believed it had concluded in 1992 and the principal interest was Belize rather than him. Mr Bradley said, before raising the new allegations: "To be caught up in one drugs investigation may just be a matter of bad luck - a big man in a small place at the wrong time. But there is more. I have seen documents, documents also seen by The Times ... all of them refer to Michael Ashcroft and to his business interests.

"I have no reason at all to believe that they are forgeries: they are taken from the files of the US investigation, intelligence and enforcement agencies and they make disturbing reading."