Hong Kong tycoons gave Tories pounds 3.8m

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The Independent Online
Hong Kong businessmen gave pounds 3.8m to the Conservative Party in the run up to the last general election in 1992, it was claimed yesterday, a far higher figure than was previously thought, including pounds 2.3m from seven influential tycoons.

Labour made the disclosure to embarrass the Prime Minister ahead of his visit to the Colony at the weekend, which they claimed was designed to boost party coffers in time for the next election. This was denied by Downing Street which said Mr Major's trip next Sunday and Monday was "solely on Government business".

New details of donations to the Tories from Hong Kong shortly before the last general election showed that of the pounds 3.8m raised from the Colony, pounds 1.5m was from the local branch of Conservatives Abroad and the remainder came from seven millionaires.

At question time in the Commons, Labour's deputy leader, John Prescott, angrily demanded assurances from Michael Heseltine, the Deputy Prime Minister, standing in for Mr Major who is in Bangkok, that the trip would not be used to tap the tycoons for funds for the next election.

Mr Prescott seized on an equivocal recent answer from Mr Major to Stephen Byers, the Labour MP, who had asked whether he would be meeting the main contributors from 1992 this weekend? In his reply, Mr Major said he hoped to meet "a broad range of businessmen, politicians and opinion formers" during his visit.

Mr Prescott asked: "Will you tell the House why the Prime Minister refused to answer parliamentary questions about the names of the people he will be meeting on his publicly funded visit to Hong Kong?"

Mr Heseltine said: "I haven't the slightest doubt that the Prime Minister's programme will remain flexible during the course of his visit."

Mr Byers claimed that seven Hong Kong millionaires had funded the Tories to the tune of pounds 2.3m in the run-up to the last election. He said that evidence from company returns, biographies and Asian press reports, showed gifts from: Sir Y K Pao, the shipping magnate, now dead, who gave pounds 1.5m; Li Ka Shing, the Hutchison telecommunications billionaire, who donated pounds 900,000; David Choy, who donated pounds 125,000; Rong Yiren, founder of China Investment Trust and Investment Corporation, who gave pounds 100,000; Stanley Ho, owner of casinos on nearby Macau, who donated pounds 100,000; T T Tsui, who runs a business empire embracing tourism, transport and broadcasting interests, and gave pounds 100,000; C H Tung, a shipping magnate, who gave pounds 50,000.

Several of the seven, notably Li Ka Shing, Mr Yiren and Mr Ho, enjoy close ties with Beijing. Mr Tsui and Mr Ka Shing sit on the Hong Kong consultative committee to smooth the handover in 1997 to China.

Downing Street said the Prime Minister's three meetings scheduled with Hong Kong businessmen were all open affairs. A senior aide travelling with the Prime Minister said that Mr Major would definitely would not be engaging in party fund raising during his visit.