Labour hit with fresh donations claim

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Indy Politics

Gordon Brown's donations nightmare deepened further today after another Cabinet minister was accused of accepting cash through a proxy.

Immigrant Waseem Siddiqui apparently gave more than £3,000 to Alan Johnson's failed campaign to become deputy Labour leader.

But Mr Siddiqui told the Sunday Mirror he did not even know who the Health Secretary was.

The 50-year-old claimed his brother, Ahmed Yar Mohammed - treasurer of Croydon Central Labour Party - asked him to write the cheque for £3,334, and then gave him the money.

"He said, 'You write a cheque'," Mr Siddiqui told the newspaper. "I write a cheque for that. For the Labour Party. That time I have no money, no job."

Mr Siddiqui is said to have admitted that he did not know Mr Johnson, and had "no interest" in the Labour Party. He signalled that he co-operated with the scheme in return for money.

In a combative statement last night, Mr Johnson's campaign team flatly denied any wrongdoing.

"We had no reason to believe the donation came from anyone other than (Mr Siddiqui)," the statement said.

"We checked he was a member of the Labour Party and was on the Electoral Register and we registered the donation with the Labour Party, the Register of Members' Interests and the Electoral Commission."

However, they admitted that the June gift from Mr Siddiqui and three other donations - some £10,000 altogether - had not appeared on the commission's register as required by law.

Although the paperwork had been filed within the 60-day limit "in accordance with regulations", the campaign team said it realised months later that the details were still not online.

"We immediately met the commission in early December to discuss the record on their website and to show to them the evidence we had that these donations had been registered with the commission during the campaign," the statement said.

"The commission undertook to check their records and we immediately resubmitted forms for the four donations so there could be no doubt of our intention to register these donations."

The donations in question were from Sonny Leong (£2,000), Waseem Siddiqui (£3,334), Songlines Ltd (£2,500) and AA Care Homes (£1,500).

The statement added that records checks revealed that the donation from Songlines had not been added to the Commons Register of Members' Interests.

"We registered the donation and apologised for this delay," it said. "To be clear, there was never any wrongdoing and at every stage we have consulted the Electoral Commission on making sure these donations are properly disclosed."

The Electoral Commission is currently carrying out checks on the permissibility of the donations.

Mr Siddiqui is said to be a Pakistani who has been living in Croydon, south London, on a student visa for the past three years. He features on the electoral roll, indicating that he is at least potentially an eligible donor.

Commonwealth citizens are entitled to vote in the UK under certain circumstances.

The revelations will come as a bitter blow to the Prime Minister just days after his Work and Pensions Secretary, Peter Hain, was forced to resign.

Mr Hain is being probed by Scotland Yard after failing to declare more than £103,000 in donations to his abortive deputy leadership campaign - much of the cash coming through an obscure and inactive think tank. He has apologised and blamed "administrative errors" by his aides.

Meanwhile, detectives are also investigating more than £630,000 in donations which were channelled to Labour by property developer David Abrahams through intermediaries.

The party's general secretary, Peter Watt, resigned last year after the practice emerged, and Mr Brown has branded the gifts "unlawful".

Anti-sleaze laws demand that donations must be transparent and their real source can be identified.

The eventual winner of the deputy leadership contest, Harriet Harman - now Commons Leader - has also admitted indirectly accepting £5,000 from Mr Abrahams.

She is being probed by the Electoral Commission, along with Wendy Alexander - who accepted £950 from a Jersey-based donor during her successful bid to become Labour's leader in Scotland. Any donation above £200 has to be from a British voter or company.

However, both women are expected to escape serious punishment because there was no intent and the sums involved are relatively low.

Mr Johnson has up until now been viewed as a "safe pair of hands" in a government which has seen its fair share of scandal.

But Labour sources indicated tonight that his camp is confident of being cleared, and the Commission would be shown to have made an administrative error over the donations.

They also believe they carried out "all the checks that could reasonably be expected" on Mr Siddiqui.

It is understood the Prime Minister was made aware recently that Mr Johnson was discussing donations issues with commission officials, and he is said to be "relaxed" about the situation.

But Liberal Democrat frontbencher Norman Baker said: "This news represents another damaging blow to Gordon Brown's 'new politics'.

"Teflon Tony has turned into Velcro Gordon. Yet again a cloud has descended upon Gordon Brown's Cabinet. This is another murky situation which will need to be properly investigated if confidence is to be restored.

"Undoubtedly these allegations will require clear explanations as to why money was given in this way. The regularity of these events underlines the need for reform of the party funding system."