The family of Ma Sik-chun, the heroin smuggler who gave pounds 1m to the Tory Party, yesterday claimed that three senior Conservatives knew that the money was given in return for "certain commitments".
In a letter to the party asking for the money back, Ma's son, Ma Ching- kwan, said former treasurers Lord Hambro and Lord Harris and the former Cabinet minister David Mellor were told the donation came with strings attached.
Mr Mellor, who was hired by the family's newspaper company as a consultant, firmly rejected the claims, while the lords declined to comment. Meanwhile, William Hague, the Tory leader, promised to return the cash if it was found to have come from an "illegal" source. The party's policy is never to accept donations with attached conditions.
In the House of Commons, the Labour MP Dennis Skinner said Ma Ching-Kwan "comes from a family of recognised heroin-dealers in Hong Kong," and said the pounds 1m should be given to charity.
"They [the Mas] did it because they wanted the father who had escaped to Taiwan to be brought back to Hong Kong," he said. "They used the offices of David Mellor and of Chris Patten. They handed over the money in the presence of the last prime minister."
It is understood the Ma family hoped the donation might smooth the return to Hong Kong of Ma senior, 59, who has been living as a fugitive in Taiwan since 1978. He jumped bail after being accused of involvement in one of South-east Asia's biggest heroin and opium rackets
The family sparked the latest funding row on Monday when it published details of the pounds 1m donation in its Hong Kong-based Oriental Daily News. It reproduced a Conservative Party receipt - numbered A10885, dated 29.6.94 - for the donation, accompanied by a picture of Mr Ma junior, CK Ma, with John Major at a Downing Street dinner. It also claimed that the party knew the money came from Ma senior, the fugitive.
In yesterday's edition, it reproduced a letter to Sir Brian Mawhinney, then the party chairman, dated 1 April 1997, CK Ma wrote that his family had been a "frequent and major" contributor but that he was "concerned that one of these contributions for pounds 1,000,000 was made with certain commitments that, with a general election only a few weeks away, and with the uncertainties that the outcome ... there appears to have been no satisfactory outcome to the explicit expectations of my family...
"Various conversations regarding my family's expectations in supporting you party at a difficult time in its history took place with Lord Hambro, Sir Phillip Harris, Rt Hon David Mellor and other senior parliamentary members of your party and there is no doubt in my mind that the expectations of my family were clearly understood by all concerned."
Mr Mellor issued a brief statement saying: "My dealings with the Oriental Press Group [the Ma family's publicly-quoted company] were entirely proper and I would strongly resent any suggestion to the contrary."
Mr Hague said he had blocked all further overseas donations when he had taken over from John Major, and he added: "We would not accept money from illegal sources. If ever that turned out not to be the case ... then of course the money in question would be returned."Reuse content