Prescott faces police questions on stadium

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Indy Politics

Scotland Yard has widened its inquiry into whether John Prescott broke anti-corruption laws after detectives were given new evidence about the Deputy Prime Minister's dealings with a property developer. Allegations have been made about a visit by Mr Prescott to the office of the developer before granting planning permission to build a £50m football stadium in Sussex.

The Deputy Prime Minister officially opened the offices of Adenstar Construction, a property company owned by Derek Chapman, in May 2002. In October, he overruled the advice of the planning inspectors to allow Mr Chapman, a director of Brighton and Hove Albion, to build the all-seater stadium.

Publicly, the Metropolitan Police say they are still deciding whether to launch a full corruption probe, but sources close to the investigation say detectives have already requested information about the meeting. Police in the specialist crime unit, studying whether Mr Prescott broke the 1906 and 1916 Prevention of Corruption Acts, have already spoken to one potential witness.

Detectives are examining whether he breached the Acts when he accepted an invitation to stay with Philip Anschutz, billionaire owner of the Dome, who is bidding for a licence to open Britain's only super-casino. Last night, Downing Street said Tony Blair privately met Mr Anschutz's most senior executive during his trip to California last week.

Tim Leiweke was among 100 guests at a champagne reception at the Getty Villa near Malibu. In an interview last year, the AEG chief executive said the "gaming licence is critical" to the firm's plans for the Greenwich site.

Anti-corruption laws say ministers and civil servants should not accept hospitality from a person or organisation that has obtained or is trying to obtain an official contract. Norman Baker, the Liberal Democrat MP for Lewes, who made the initial complaint to the police about Mr Prescott's visit to Mr Anschutz's ranch said it was "odd" that Mr Prescott had agreed to open the offices of the property company.

"I am pleased the Metropolitan Police is taking seriously my complaint and I have now provided more context for my complaint including Mr Prescott's dealings with Adenstar Ltd and proposals for a football stadium in open country," he said.

Mr Prescott and Mr Chapman have denied any wrongdoing or talking about the planning application for the stadium. Permission for the stadium was withdrawn in April because of a wording error in Mr Prescott's approval letter.

A spokesman for the Deputy Prime Minister said: "There is no suggestion that there has been any impropriety. He wasn't responsible for planning policy when he met this gentleman; Stephen Byers was. The main reason he was at Adenstar was because he was invited by the local MP. All the facts about this have been in the public domain since 2003. It is interesting that Norman Baker is only now making an issue of it." The encounter between Mr Blair and Mr Leiweke has led to renewed calls for an independent inquiry.Hugo Swire, the Shadow secretary of state for culture, said: "John Prescott's actions and the Government's failure to answer questions about them have ensured no private meeting between a minister and AEG is free of potential controversy."

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