Libel trial told of Tory `prevarication'

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Staff at Conservative Party Central Office "prevaricated" over requests from trustees representing Asil Nadir's creditors about donations the fugitive tycoon had made to the party, a High Court jury was told yesterday, writes Rhys Williams.

Paul Judge, director-general of the Conservative Party, is suing the Guardian newspaper, its editor-in-chief, Peter Preston, and two journalists, Paul Brown and David Pallister, over allegations in September 1993 that Central Office resorted to "old tricks" to obstruct trustees' inquiries and faced court action unless it co-operated.

Charles Gray QC, cross-examining for the defence, told the court that Neil Cooper, head of corporate recovery at the accountants Robson Rhodes, a joint trustee in Nadir's personal bankruptcy, had written to Central Office on 16 June 1993 requesting that details of any personal donations be provided with "utmost urgency".

Mr Judge replied on 7 July that Mr Nadir had made no personal donations to the party, and Mr Cooper wrote back a fortnight later requesting information about payments that may have been made through Nadir's companies or nominees. When no reply was forthcoming, Mr Gray said, Mr Cooper was force to write a chasing letter on 20 August: "Mr Cooper got a bit fed up with what he thought was prevarication. He makes plain that he was getting a bit miffed with what he sees as a `certain reluctance to co-operate'and adds that the matter is being placed in the hands of his [Robson Rhodes'] solicitors."

Mr Judge, 45, of Elmbridge, Worcestershire, maintains he co-operated with the trustees and never heard any suggestion of court action, even during a cordial conversation with Mr Cooper two days before the article appeared. However, he admitted yesterday:"We weren't gripped with a time deadline on this."

The case continues today.