Isle of Man Chief Minister quits over corruption inquiry

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The chief Minister of the Isle of Man resigned yesterday after being arrested and questioned by police over a corruption allegation. Richard Corkill and his wife, Julie, have been asked about grants paid by the island's Department of Tourism and Leisure to their holiday-cottage business.

The chief Minister of the Isle of Man resigned yesterday after being arrested and questioned by police over a corruption allegation. Richard Corkill and his wife, Julie, have been asked about grants paid by the island's Department of Tourism and Leisure to their holiday-cottage business.

When the controversy resurfaced a few weeks ago, Mr Corkill said it would be destabilising if he had to resign "every time someone made unsubstantiated allegations".

But he said yesterday he was stepping down to safeguard the integrity of the office of Chief Minister.

The leader is the political head of the Manx government, nominated by the parliament from among its own members and appointed by the lieutenant governor, the Queen's representative on the island.

"The arrest was part of a process at a pre-arranged interview, and we were bailed and released without charge," Mr Corkill said. "This development increases the pressure of public suspicion and speculation to a point where I have to step aside to protect the good name and credibility of the Isle of Man government."

The investigation, by the island's serious crime squad, centres on the payment of £91,000 in tourism development money for the couple's business, which doubles as their home at Ballacain, Onchan, near the island's capital, Douglas.

The investigation coincides with an acrimonious legal battle between Mr Corkill and a local builder, Colin Moore. Mr Moore and an associate claim that they are owed more than £102,000 by Mr Corkill, and the Chief Minister has issued a counter-claim, arguing that the firm owes him and his wife more than £90,000.

Mr Corkhill claims that Mr Moore is the source of allegations that the tourism grants were illegal. The builder has declined to comment, but the island's Tourism and Leisure minister, David Cretney, indicated in an internal memo four months ago that Mr Moore had made "serious allegations".

A subsequent internal government audit found the Tourism Department to blame for "unacceptable" administrative failures and put Mr Corkill in the clear.

The police inquiry, which has included a search of the Corkills' home, continues.

The timing of the saga is unfortunate, coming months after an inquiry headed by Nigel Macleod QC into how lucrative planning consent was granted for a development at farmland on the coast near Mount Murray. The development, which was widely expected to be tourism-based, turned out to be a housing estate.

The inquiry, in its first report 17 months ago, found flaws in the planning system, inappropriate relationships between developers and members of government and discovered that a Treasury minister knowingly misled the island's House of Keys while he was serving as tourism minister.

Mr Corkill recently told the Manx parliament that the latest dispute had included physical threats against him. "What does surprise me is that this building dispute appears to have prompted an extraordinary level of quite unjustified but sustained harassment of myself and my family, much of which still remains unknown to the public," he said.

"It has included previous criminal allegations investigated by the police which have been found to be without foundation. It has included threats on the internet and other disturbing incidents at our home."

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