Prescott inquiry will look at Anschutz's gifts

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Indy Politics

The anti-sleaze inquiry into John Prescott's links with the US billionaire Philip Anschutz has been widened to cover the gifts of a cowboy hat, boots and a belt with a personalised buckle that he is alleged to have received on a trip to the Dome owner's Colorado ranch.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Philip Mawer, said he had asked the Deputy Prime Minister whether he received the gifts, and if so, why he failed to declare them in the Register of Members' Interests. Officials said Mr Prescott's department is due to disclose all gifts he received in the annual return by Whitehall departments.

Sir Philip said: "In the light of newspaper reports over the weekend alleging that Mr Prescott received gifts from Mr Anschutz during his stay at the ranch, I have asked some questions of Mr Prescott designed to enable me to assess whether or not if any gifts were indeed received they were registrable in the Register of Members' Interests."

His letter was made public as it emerged that Mr Prescott had accepted free tickets to a football match from the American tycoon who is bidding to open a super-casino at the Millennium Dome in Greenwich.

The Deputy Prime Minister attended the game during a visit to Mr Anschutz's Home Depot Centre in Los Angeles in July 2004. He was given a personal tour of the development, along with other dignitaries including the Mayor of Los Angeles, by Mr Anschutz. The tour included a football match featuring the LA Galaxy team, which is also owned by Mr Anschutz.

His company, Anschutz Entertainment Group, is hoping to operate Britain's only super-casino at the Dome.

A spokeswoman for the Deputy Prime Minister confirmed that Mr Prescott attended the football match as he looked at the role of large-scale developments in regeneration.

She said: "He went to the football match because it was part of the visit to the Home Depot Centre, which is an enormous regeneration establishment in LA. It's a key part of the regeneration project for the area."

Sir Philip's inquiry will be too narrow to satisfy critics who want it to look into whether Mr Prescott broke ministerial codes of practice. In a letter to the Tory MP Hugo Swire, who has been pursuing Mr Prescott over the links with Mr Anschutz's bid for a casino in the Dome Sir Philip said: "I am not empowered to consider possible breaches of the ministerial code.

"Under procedures relating to the parliamentary code I am not normally expected to investigate a matter purely on the basis of newspaper reports but following the submission to me of a complaint, in writing, supported by evidence."

The Deputy Prime Minister has the backing of Ken Livingstone, the Mayor of London, who used his regular press conference yesterday to reinforce his support for the regeneration of the Greenwich peninsula with the Anschutz Dome development.

"Attention has been diverted by other issues from the key importance of the redevelopment of the entertainment complex at the Dome for London. These proposals will provide a major boost to the economy of east London and create western Europe's largest entertainment centre.

"These proposals include an arena with a capacity of over 20,000, a music club, exhibition space and an 11-screen cinema, bars and restaurants. Work has already started on these parts of the scheme," he said.