Millionaire: I paid no cash to Labour

Lobbying row: Businessman hits back after minister's links to Cyprus are alleged to be behind support for stadium

TONY KLEANTHOUS, the young millionaire linked to the minister Alan Meale, hit back yesterday at the "character assassination", "racism" and "snobbery" he says are behind the allegations.

Mr Meale has been privately lobbying for development of a sports complex, including a stadium for Barnet Football Club, owned by Mr Kleanthous, who has a Greek-Cypriot background. The minister is sympathetic to the Greek position on the divided island of Cyprus, and has been there on 11 fact-finding missions. He is also said to have played a part getting donations to the Labour Party from Greek-Cypriot businessmen.

Mr Meale was PPS to John Prescott, Secretary of State for the Environment and Transport, when he wrote to civil servants and the planning minister Richard Caborn, supporting the scheme at Copthall, Mill Hill, in Barnet. He is now a minister in Mr Prescott's department. An inspector's report on the planning application is to be delivered to Mr Prescott.

Last night Mr Meale said the Barnet application was raised with him before the election and before he became a PPS to Mr Prescott, by a constituent, the chairman of Mansfield Town Football Club. He stopped making representations on the case once he became a minister.

The Liberal Democrat Chief Whip, Paul Tyler, said he intended raising the case with the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Gordon Downey. The Conservative Party chairman, Michael Ancram, demanded that Mr Meale gives a full account of his "extraordinary and outrageous conduct" or resign.

Mr Kleanthous, 32, who made his money out of petrochemicals and telecommunications, told The Independent: "I have never given money to the Labour Party and I had nothing to do with these trips to Cyprus ... The only reason I have been dragged into this is because my parents were born in Cyprus, not because of anything I have ever done or said. I was born and brought up in this country, and just because I am from a Greek-Cypriot background does not mean I am involved with the politics of Cyprus. Isn't this a bit racist?

"My interest in purely sporting. Unless Barnet gets this new stadium, under League rules we shall have to shut down. We are trying to make it a community complex for people in all walks of life.

"There is also a bit of snobbery involved ... There are 340,000 people living Barnet, and around 70,000 in Mill Hill. Out of all that about a thousand wealthy people in Copthall do not want a sports complex in their neighbourhood. They have been the ones opposed to the scheme.

"The Liberal Democrats are backing these people but we have had the support of both Tories and Labour."

However, the Labour MP Andrew Dismore, whose constituency covers Copthall, has said he was " very concerned" about Mr Meale's involvement in a planning matter 140 miles from his own constituency. In a letter to Mill Hill Preservation Society, campaigning against the complex, he said: " I do not regard it as appropriate for an MP from another constituency to correspond over planning applications in a different constituency and not even have the courtesy of copying the documentation."

Yesterday Mr Dismore, asked whether he expected any repercussions for criticising the conduct of a minister, said: "I don't think I was particularly `off-message' in anything I said about the matter; I would have thought I was being `on-message'."

Mr Kleanthous said: "Mr Meale is a football fan and I met him at Mansfield Town Football Club when we went to play there. I am sure I talked to him about the problems Barnet faces, like I would talk to anyone who cares to listen. I do not see what he is doing that is so wrong. I didn't even know he was a politician until a recent visit to Mansfield. I don't know enough about politics to say whether he had broken any rules."

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