Skip to comments.Blair's aides said to face charges in 'cash-for-honours' row
Posted on 04/20/2007 9:37:54 PM PDT by NormsRevenge
LONDON (AFP) - Close allies of British Prime Minister Tony Blair are set to be charged in the "cash for honours" row that has tainted his final year in office, newspapers said Saturday.
Police investigating the allegations on Friday handed a 216-page file to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), which will now decide whether anyone should face criminal proceedings in the case.
The 13-month inquiry was launched amid claims that political parties, mainly Blair's governing Labour Party, had illegally offered their financial supporters seats in parliament's unelected upper House of Lords.
Blair was interviewed twice as a witness in the probe, the first sitting prime minister to be questioned as part of a criminal inquiry, as the police gradually closed in on his Downing Street office.
The Financial Times said Blair "looks almost certain to escape prosecution."
But The Times said it understood that two of Blair's closest allies face charges: Lord Michael Levy, Labour's chief fundraiser and Blair's Middle East envoy, and Ruth Turner, the Downing Street director of government relations.
The pair and two others were arrested in the probe. They, plus biotech tycoon and Labour backer Sir Christopher Evans, remain on bail. All three deny any wrong-doing.
Under the front-page headline "Charge them!", the Daily Mail said the police demanded that Levy, Turner and Evans be prosecuted.
The Times said it understood that police had also discussed possible charges against Evans, Blair's longest-serving aide Jonathan Powell, and John McTernan, the prime minister's political secretary, though it was unclear whether they were recommended for prosecution.
"The evidence under normal circumstances would be considered as strong. But who knows what will happen in this case. The stakes are so incredibly high," a source told The Times.
The newspaper said they would have to wait around three months for a decision.
The Financial Times said it understood that any charges would almost certainly be brought after Blair's resignation, expected by many pundits to come in May.
In its editorial, The Times said the case would "colour British politics for a long time to come."
It said the timing of the police handing its file to the CPS was "bound to trigger a degree of adverse comment," coming in the run-up to the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English local elections on May 3.
"It would be extremely unfortunate if the return of this saga influenced how votes were cast in these contests only for it to be discovered later that no one was to be charged, never mind convicted," it said.
"This has been an extremely political case from the outset."
In a statement, London's Metropolitan Police said that 136 people had been questioned either as witnesses or suspects as part of the probe.
Members of Blair's cabinet were among those quizzed.
"We have had extensive consultation with the CPS during the inquiry and provided them with reports together with over 6,300 documents," the Met said.
"It is now a matter for the CPS to consider the evidence, advise us on whether any further enquiries are necessary and whether any charges should be brought."
Police launched their investigation last March after a complaint from Scottish Nationalist MP Angus MacNeil.
Detectives investigated whether there had been any offences committed under the rarely-used Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925, which forbids the sale of peerages, knighthoods, and other gongs.
This came after the revelation that the House of Lords' appointment commission had blocked the award of peerages to four wealthy Labour backers who lent the party money before the 2005 general election.
Labour admitted being secretly loaned nearly 14 million pounds (28 million dollars, 20.5 million euros) in that period.
And when the main opposition Conservatives also owned up to receiving 16 million pounds for its election kitty, the probe was widened to include them as well.
The whole affair threatens to overshadow Blair's plans as the curtain falls on his time on office.
I haven’t been following this, but cash for honors is just about the oldest of all British traditions.