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The Independent Online
A STATEMENT in `The Times' today says:

"In the past six months The Times has reported extensively on the business and political interests of the Conservative Party treasurer, Michael Ashcroft.

"During that period The Times has questioned the suitability of Mr Ashcroft to be both treasurer and most substantial donor to the Conservative Party, and has challenged the dependence of Her Majesty's Opposition upon the wealth of one man.

"Mr Ashcroft has a British passport but has lived and worked abroad for more than a decade, not only as a businessman but, for part of the time, as the Permanent Representative to the United Nations for the Central American Commonwealth state of Belize. The issues raised by The Times have resulted in a substantive and useful debate on foreign donations to political parties.

"In the course of its inquiries - and in its view acting in the public interest of disclosing relevant facts about those in public life - The Times published details of US Drug Enforcement Administration files in which Mr Ashcroft's name is mentioned.

"Mr Ashcroft issued a writ for libel, alleging that The Times had implied that he was under serious suspicion of involvement in drug trafficking and money laundering.

"The Times is pleased to confirm that is has no evidence that Mr Ashcroft or any of his companies have ever been suspects of money laundering or drug-related crimes.

"Mr Ashcroft has told The Times that he recognises the public concern about foreign funding of British politics, and that he intends to reorganise his affairs in order to return to live in Britain. The Times applauds this.

"He will continue with his work to raise funds for the Conservative Party from the largest possible number of donors, including both the wealthy and the less well-off. The openness and accountability of political funding by all parties will remain a central issue for investigation and comment by The Times.

"With this statement, The Times intends to draw a line under "The Ashcroft Affair". Litigation between parties has been settled to mutual satisfaction, with each side bearing its own costs."