TORY TREASURER: Ashcroft was named in US inquiries

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The Independent Online
PETER BRADLEY, Labour MP for The Wrekin, told the Commons the files he had seen were from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the FBI and the International Narcotics Bureau. He said they had also been seen by The Times, which first published allegations over Michael Ashcroft's Belize-based interests.

"In 1989 Mr Ashcroft's name was linked to a DEA drug-trafficking inquiry that stretched across Europe, the US and Canada," Mr Bradley told MPs yesterday.

In 1992 a man "was arrested and jailed for laundering money gained from organised crime through Michael Ashcroft's Belize bank.

"In 1993 the DEA conducted an investigation of Belize- linked businesses ... Twelve of the 20-odd that they investigated had links to Michael Ashcroft. In 1994 the DEA file reports observing Michael Ashcroft taking a flight from the US to the Caribbean and it referred, and I quote, to `possible air smuggling/money laundering under way by Michael Ashcroft' ... And it reported also that the plane was owned and piloted by two suspected drug traffickers.

"In 1997 a man arrested in Holland on suspicion of drugs offences gave as his address the same address in Belize as Mr Ashcroft's principal company, Belize Holdings. These are serious matters. I do not claim that Michael Ashcroft is guilty of any offence. I simply do not know."

However, he said, nor does the Tory leader, William Hague, "but he above all should be concerned about these allegations. The drip, drip, drip of disclosures is becoming a torrent which threatens to engulf the Conservative Party.

"And it is extraordinary that the Leader of the Opposition has taken no action about it." Mr Bradley demanded that Mr Hague refer Mr Ashcroft to his party's integrity and ethics committee, sack him as treasurer and return donations he made to the party in recent years. "Michael Ashcroft says he will not go, so there is only one man who can decide his fate and that is the man who says he runs the Conservative Party," said Mr Bradley. "Does he have the power, to sack Michael Ashcroft, because Michael Ashcroft is the man who owns the Conservative Party."

Mr Ashcroft had said he was aware of one investigation by the DEA. He said he believed it had concluded in 1992 and the principal interest was Belize rather than him.

Mr Bradley said, before raising the new allegations: "To be caught up in one drugs investigation may just be a matter of bad luck - a big man in a small place at the wrong time. But there is more. I have seen documents, documents also seen by The Times ... all of them refer to Michael Ashcroft and to his business interests.

"I have no reason at all to believe they are forgeries: they are taken from the files of the US investigation, intelligence and enforcement agencies and they make disturbing reading."