It’s been a busy day for two of the Lib Dems’ most tenacious shadow cabinet members today, with both Chris Huhne and Norman Baker urging investigations into Tory shadow chancellor George Osborne’s donation discussions with Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska.
Chris Huhne wrote to the Chairman of the Electoral Commission,
George Sam Younger*, asking him to confirm:
that a donation by a foreign citizen not resident and on the electoral register in the UK ‘channelled’ through a conduit such as a UK trading company would be illegal. If so, there is a prima facie case for considering whether Mr Osborne and Mr Feldman have done ‘any act in furtherance of any arrangement which facilitates or is likely to facilitate, whether by means of concealment or disguise or otherwise, the making of donations…by other than a permissible donor’.
Given that this offence is punishable by up to a one-year custodial sentence I am sure you will agree with me on the need to establish quickly whether the law has been broken and clarify your position if you believe that there is no case to answer. You should either open an inquiry into the events on Mr Deripaska’s yacht or you should set out clearly your interpretation of the law.
You will also be aware that the Conservative party has yet to disclose the full sources of its funding at the last general election, which may have been loans made by people who would now be impermissible donors. There is the strongest possible public interest in full openness about the sources of party political funds, which is why I believe it is so important that this matter is clarified or fully investigated by you.
His full letter is available to read on the party website here.
However the Electoral Commission has declined to investigate, according to the BBC:
The Electoral Commission has rejected a call from the Lib Dems for it to look into whether George Osborne broke the law by allegedly soliciting donations. Home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne urged the watchdog to investigate claims Mr Osborne solicited a £50,000 donation from a Russian billionaire. But the Commission said it saw “no information” suggesting an offence.
Meanwhile, Norman Baker has written to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner about Mr Osborne’s failure to register his Corfu meetings with Mr Deripaska – he explained why on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One (hat-tip: PoliticsHome):
Mr Baker explained why he had written to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards on the rules regarding the registration of MPs interests, following controversy over George Osborne’s meetings with Russian businessman Oleg Deripaska:
“Well, I think it’s very important we establish the rules not just for George Osborne but for Peter Mandelson,” he said.
He added: “The rule is quite clear, if there’s any doubt it should be registered”.
He said this was particularly applied to meetings between businessmen and the Shadow Chancellor:”George Osborne as Shadow Chancellor is in a different position to ordinary backbenchers…the combination of a Shadow Chancellor and an international financier is a potent one.”
Mr Baker concluded that to avoid further suspicion Mr Osborne should now register his meetings with Mr Deripaska:
“Clarity and openness is always the safeguard for individual MPs and I recommend that Mr Osborne should register this stay,” he said
* mea culpa. (But an easy mistake to make, no?)