Tory donors quizzed over funding scandal

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Indy Politics

The majority of witnesses interviewed by police investigating the "cash-for-peerages" row were Conservatives, MPs were told yesterday.

It is believed those interviewed include the Tories' main fundraiser, Jonathan Marland, the party treasurer, who was included in the working list of peers by David Cameron, the Tory leader, in April, and knew the identities of Tory donors.

The Tory supporters who made substantial secret loans included Robert Edmiston, a multimillionaire car importer, who was nominated by the Conservatives for a peerage but was blocked by the Lords Appointments Commission chaired by Lord Stevenson. Mr Edmiston voluntarily declared his £1m loan but was blocked because of a tax dispute. He converted the loan to a gift and has been assured his peerage will go ahead.

The disclosure to members of the Commons Public Administration Committee chaired by the Labour MP Tony Wright showed that the investigation has embroiled both of the main parties. It provided some relief for Tony Blair over allegations that New Labour is steeped in sleaze. Mr Cameron said the predominance of Tory witnesses in the police investigation was because the Conservatives had been in power for so long before Labour. He was reluctant to name the Conservative big lenders when the row first broke but did so after Labour published its list of 12 backers who gave £13.9m in loans. The Tories named 13 supporters who gave loans totalling £16m.

The Conservatives admitted they had taken loans from foreigners, although donations from abroad are banned under the electoral laws. They repaid £5m in loans, some to foreign nationals, but refused to identify them.

The Tory lenders who allowed their names to be released included: Johan Eliasch, the chairman and chief executive of the sporting goods company Head, who gave £2.6m; Lord Ashcroft, the former party treasurer, who gave £3.6m; Lord Laidlaw, a businessman and founder of the Institute for International Research, who gave £3.5m; Michael Hintze, a former Australian army officer, who gave £2.5m; Lord Steinberg, the founder and chairman of Stanley Leisure casino group, who gave £250,000; Henry Angest, an investment banker, who gave £550,000; Dame Vivien Duffield, the chairman of the Royal Opera House Endowment Fund, who gave £250,000; Alan Lewis, the former chairman of the CBI Initiative for Europe, who gave £100,000; Graham Facks-Martin, a retired farmer and Conservative councillor, who gave £50,000 and Lady Victoria de Rothschild, a former party treasurer, who gave £1m.

The detective at the centre of a political storm

It was almost inevitable that Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Yates would be asked to lead the "cash for honours" investigation. It seems that when there is a politically sensitive, and potentially explosive inquiry to be carried out, the 47-year-old detective gets the job.

Armed with 24 years of experience, bright, articulate and politically astute, he was the obvious candidate for what could be one of the most controversial police inquiries of modern times.

Mr Yates' attitude from the beginning of the inquiry into political funding has been that he needs to be thorough and to question everyone involved. But, according to sources on the investigating team, from the start Mr Yates believed it was going to be difficult to get concrete evidence, if it existed, of corruption.

He is used to dealing with tricky, high-profile investigations. It was only in May this year that he announced that it would be an inappropriate use of police resources to follow up a complaint about John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister. This followed a complaint by a retired police officer about Mr Prescott's affair with a secretary.

He was also the man that Sir Ian Blair, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, chose to fly to Brazil to offer the Met's condolences to the family of Jean Charles de Menezes, the innocent Brazilian who was shot dead by police.

Another unappealing task assigned to the officer was the prosecution of Paul Burrell, the former butler to Diana, Princess of Wales, for alleged theft. But his biggest job was being put in charge of the British police's response to the Asian tsunami, dealing with the families of Britons who died.

Providing his current inquiry does not backfire, he is considered a strong prospect as a future chief constable in a large force.

Jason Bennetto