Tories questioned over Saudi cash: Party chairman will face Commons committee over foreign donations

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The Independent Online
SIR NORMAN FOWLER, Chairman of the Conservative Party, will be questioned about donations to the party from three foreign governments when he goes before the Home Affairs Select Committee this afternoon.

Committee members will ask him whether the Tory party received funds from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Brunei. All three countries are ruled by wealthy royal families with substantial UK business and property interests. They enjoy a close relationship with the Conservatives during Margaret Thatcher's premiership.

During her period in office, Saudi Arabia struck Al Yamamah, the biggest arms contract yet with Britain; Mrs Thatcher led Western support for Kuwait at the outbreak of the Gulf war, and Brunei received her backing on oil and arms deals.

Major General Sir Brian Wyldbore- Smith, the party's director of fund raising for 12 years before he retired last year, has admitted that it received pounds 7m from foreign backers just before last year's general election. That accounted for two-thirds of the party's spending on the pounds 11m election campaign. Only two donors, John Latsis, the Greek shipping tycoon, and Li Ka-Shing, the Hong Kong billionaire, have been identified.

Committee members will also ask Sir Norman about donations from Asil Nadir, the fugitive Turkish-

Cypriot businessman. They are keen to use the unprecedented question and answer session to open up the whole question of Tory funding.

Sir Norman will also be asked to explain four 'missing years' from Conservative Party accounts. The committee wants to know how much the party received between 1979 and 1983, a period for which no accounts have been made available. Sir Norman is also expected to be questioned on the use of 'front' organisations and financial vehicles to collect funds from donors seeking anonymity. Those include British United Industrialists, the Conservative Industrial Fund and a number of companies created to receive cash and named after rivers.

Labour last night published an eight-point 'charter' for party political funding, including a ban on the acceptance of donations from foreign nationals and foreign governments.

The charter, issued by Margaret Beckett, Labour's deputy leader, also calls for the disclosure of all individual donations above a fixed limit, the publication of fully audited accounts, and a national expenditure limit on party campaigning.

Lord Tebbit, the former party chairman, last night said the party checked the honesty of donations 'as far as reasonably possible' and had rejected one. He added that knighthoods were not for sale. 'They support us if they wish to but what they can't do is to buy us,' he said.

As John Smith and John Major clashed in the Commons over the party donations, the Conservative leadership tried to take some of the sting out of Sir Norman's cross- examination by confirming for the first time that Asil Nadir had paid pounds 440,000 to the Tories in nine payments between 1985 and 1990.

A party spokesman said a report in the Independent that Nadir paid pounds 500,000 in 1983-85 was 'untrue' and claims by Nadir that he paid pounds 1.5m in all were 'fiction'. The spokesman added if it was proved the money was stolen 'we will return it'.

Trial ruled out, page 3

Leading article, page 21