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UK Politics

Huhne faces expenses complaint

Under fire Cabinet minister Chris Huhne was under fresh pressure today following the disclosure that he faces a complaint about his general election expenses.

Two former Liberal Democrat councillors in the Energy Secretary's Eastleigh constituency in Hampshire have submitted a formal complaint to the official elections watchdog alleging he made a "false declaration" of his expenses.

The allegation is based on a recording of a local party meeting where treasurer Anne Winstanley is heard saying that the elections "have cost more than we declared".

Mr Huhne strongly denied the charge, insisting his expenses were in order. Aides said he was confident the claims would be dismissed, arguing that they were was based on a misunderstanding of was said at the meeting.

However the confirmation by the Electoral Commission that it has received an official complaint will only intensify the pressure he currently faces.

Essex Police are already looking into allegations that in 2003 he persuaded his then wife, Vicky Pryce, to accept speeding penalty points on his behalf so he could escape a driving ban - a charge he also denies.

The complaint concerning his election expenses was made by former Lib Dem mayor Glynn Davies-Dear, now an independent councillor on Eastleigh borough council, and former Lib Dem councillor Andy Moore. Both men quit the party in January in protest at the coalition's policies.

Mr Moore told The Daily Mail that it was based on a recording of a meeting last June to discuss the party's finances in the wake of the election which he made in order to help prepare a note of what was said.

In their complaint, they say: "We are in possession of evidence of a false declaration of the electoral expenses of Chris Huhne MP in the 2010 general election.

"The evidence takes the form of an iPhone aural recording of a presentation by the treasurer to the Liberal Democrat Party's constituency executive committee in June 2010, substantiated by a paper copy of the election accounts.

"The Treasurer clearly and unequivocally states that total expenses formally declared were £50,000 while actual expenses were £60,000."

Under election law candidates are limited to how much they can spend during an election campaign depending on the number of voters in their constituency.

On top of that, however, the political parties can spend an unlimited amount of the their nationally allotted spending in any given constituency. Local parties were also able to spend on campaigning for council elections held on the same day.

Lib Dem aides said that the sums referred to in the meeting covered all campaigning in the constituency and not just Mr Huhne's individual campaign expenses.

In a statement, Ms Winstanley said: "The general election expenses were as declared to the Electoral Commission. Additional expenditure in this period was for the local election campaigns, or not attributable to the campaign."

Mr Huhne said: "These election expenses have been thoroughly checked and accepted by the Electoral Commission. I have no reason to believe there are any irregularities."

A spokesman for the Electoral Commission said: "We've received an allegation relating to Chris Huhne's spending on last year's election, and we will be looking at it, and any evidence provided."