Police to question Prescott on corruption

DPM faces Met inquiry into his stay with US billionaire, and fresh questions about links with property developer
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Indy Politics

John Prescott is to be interviewed by police who are investigating whether he broke anti-corruption laws when he accepted an invitation to stay with Philip Anschutz, the billionaire owner of the Millennium Dome.

The Metropolitan police have begun investigating a complaint that the Deputy Prime Minister breached the terms of the 1903 Prevention of Corruption Act. Several officers have been assigned to the case and they have begun conducting interviews and requesting paperwork.

The development could not come at a worse time for the Deputy Prime Minister, who takes over running the country from Tony Blair when he goes on holiday at the end of this week. The Prime Minister is also facing an interview by police officers investigating the cash-for-honours affair. They have already interviewed under caution several millionaire Labour donors and spoken to ministers, including the former party chairman Ian McCartney.

The police are looking into whether Mr Prescott broke the terms of the act by accepting an invitation to stay at Mr Anschutz's Colorado ranch last year.

Senior anti-fraud lawyers believe that Mr Prescott may have breached the act, which says that ministers should not accept hospitality from a person or organisation that has obtained or is trying to obtain an official contract.

Government officials, including Mr Prescott's former special adviser, Alan Schofield, could also face corruption charges because public servants are covered by the act.

Officers working in the specialist crimes directorate led by John Yates are understood to be taking seriously a complaint about Mr Prescott by the Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker.

Last night, a source said they were gathering preliminary evidence before referring the complaint to the Crown Prosecution Service for assessment.

"We can confirm we have received an allegation of an offence ... and are considering its content," said a spokesman for the Met. "The allegation is in relation to hospitality or consideration received from the person or organisation which has obtained or is try to obtain an official contract."

Mr Baker said last night he was pleased the police were looking into the complaint. "I have been pleased by the professional response the police have shown in reaction to my letter. And I have formed the impression that they have taken the matter seriously," the MP for Lewes said.

Mr Prescott has already been rebuked for failing to declare the stay in the register of members' interests. He has also been accused by the Conservatives of breaching the ministerial code of conduct.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay, a Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesman, said Mr Prescott was guilty of a clear conflict of interest. "The act makes it very clear that hospitality must not be accepted from anyone who has obtained a government contract. The rules are very clear but the Government has been very casual about them. John Prescott wouldn't recognise a conflict of interest if it punched him on the nose," he said.

Whitehall is furious that the Deputy Prime Minister compromised the integrity of officials in his private office who accompanied him during his stay at the ranch.

Civil servants are advised not to accept hospitality if a conflict of interest could be anticipated, and they could also be investigated under anti-corruption laws. After returning from the ranch they were advised by the head of the Home Civil Service to register the stay.