+++ Rennard Admits Flipping Main Residence in 2007 +++
+++ Ruling : No Definition of ‘Main Address’ +++

Shhh, Don't Tell Anyone We're in StockwellIn a very odd ruling following a complaint made by the Sunlight Centre about Lord Rennard to the House of Lords Clerk of the Parliaments’ Office, the Clerk has decided that in “the absence of any definition of main address in the current guidance to the House of Lords’ Members Expenses Scheme, I have come to the conclusion that I should not uphold the complaint.”

Guido takes this to mean that no peer will be found to have broken the rules regarding main residence.  This ruling will certainly will be grabbed by Baroness Uddin as a get out of jail free clause.  Stunning.

Media Rant?

ldnewsPerhaps Clegg could get Legg to look into Liz Barker’s home address?  The Baroness seems to be suffering from amnesia

Sunday Sleaze

Sunday Sleaze

You have to admire the audacity of these troughers, or is just desperation? The Sunday Herald reveals that

“a handful of Labour MPs are trying to block the police ­investigation into the ­possible criminal abuse of Commons expenses, It is understood the group has warned the Metropolitian Police that probes into expenses may breach “­parliamentary privilege”, the ancient right that protects proceedings in Parliament, which notably allows freedom of speech in the Commons chamber. A senior Labour source confirmed some MPs have taken legal advice on whether parliamentary privilege extends to expenses, potentially putting them off-limits to the police.”

They are trying to claim that an MP committing fraud is immune from prosecution due to parliamentary privilege.  Ridiculous.

Guido’s guess is that the Tory MP (and whip) John Baron’s expenses might benefit from further investigation. His mortgage seems to have gone up as interest rates have gone down.  His local paper the Echo reports that a local Tory councillor has resigned in disgust.  His home is 35 miles from Westminster.

Elizabeth_BarkerThe LibDems like to posture as morally superior to their parliamentary colleagues on matters of probity.  This may be true in the Commons, however in the Lords their peers trough like the best of them.  Lord Rennard, the former CEO of the party, is already under investigation for claiming overnight allowances for being away from home, when to all intents and purposes his main home is minutes away from Westminster over the Thames in Vauxhall.  Now it transpires that the frontbench health spokeswoman Baroness Barker followed her leader.  Just like Rennard she has been living and working in London and claiming the away from home overnight allowance to the tune of £70,000 in expenses from the House of Lords.  She is refusing to say where her main residence was when she made the claims.  The Sunday Times suggests she has always lived in Merton, not Sussex as she indicated to them.  She seems strangely unable to remember her home address…

Elsewhere in somewhat unsurprising news documents reveal Jack Straw tried to conceal expense revelations.  Wonder why?

In the Mail the neighbours of Jacqui Smith’s sister feel vindicated that despite her sister’s smears against them they were proved to be telling the truth.  A survey of  Jacqui Smith’s Redditch constitutents for the Mail reveals that the majority want her to pay back the money, resign and be prosecuted:

Chris Galley of the Sunlight Centre tells the Express he will see Jacqui in Court.  You can donate towards making that happen here.

UPDATE : Maybe St Frank ain’t so saintly after all.  Trouser press, flat-screen TVs, linen etc. and £1,000 a month in unreceipted expenses.  Hmmm…

Jacqui Smith : Crime Without Punishment

Crime Without Punishment

Guido is grateful to Newsnight’s David Grossman for revealing how it passed that Jacqui Smith’s investigation by the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner and critical report to to the Committee on Standards and Privileges resulted in a mere slap on the wrist.

Guido has, for once, no complaints about Commissioner John Lyon’s report to the Committee.  Paul Waugh says that the Commissioner “confided during the course of his inquiry that he has to “keep a keen eye on the blogs”. Government sources feel that Lyon believed he was under heavy pressure to do a tough report…” Good.  It is fair to say that John Lyon and the Sunlight Centre for Open Politics were in correspondence from the outset – remember the Commissioner at first rejected Sunlight’s original request for an investigation into Jacqui Smith.  Sunlight persisted, citing precedent and the existence of witnesses and he reluctantly began an investigation.  (Sunlight’s correspondence was noticeably omitted from the final report.)

The former Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, Sir Alastair Graham, is shocked that despite the findings, which include that the former Home Secretary attempted to mislead the investigation as to where she spent most of her nights, the MPs’ Committee on Standards and Privileges ruled she just had to apologise.  Guido has said it before; MPs judging MPs will always give them the benefit of the doubt, it is like selecting jurors from prison.  In this case the composition of the Committee was disgraceful.  One Tory, Greg Knight, was outnumbered by five Labour MPs, Andrew Dismore, Chris Mullin, Kevin Barron, Paddy Tippin and Dr Alan Whitehead.  So despite being found to have wrongly claimed £116,000, to have mislead the investigation and broken the rules, her ‘honourable’ friends ruled she had to merely apologise.  She was not ordered to repay a  single penny.  This is crime without punishment…

Sunday Sleaze

Sunday Sleaze

target-baronessBaroness Scotland is being investigated by the Bar Standards Board, the barristers’ watchdog, reports the Mail on Sunday.  She is accused of bringing the profession into disrepute.  A quick run down the charge sheet for those who have forgotten: she broke employment laws by not providing payslips or paying all the taxes due at the time, she provided no written contract of employment and effectively paid her housekeeper cash in hand.  She was fined £5,000 for breaking the laws she herself introduced that were designed to punish unscrupulous employers from hiring illegal immigrants.  She has hardly enhanced the reputation of the Bar has she?

The Sunlight Centre For Open Politics claimed in formal submissions to the Bar Standards Board that the Baroness had ‘breached the Barrister’s Code of Conduct by acting in a way that damages the profession’s reputation’. Incidentally, Baroness Scotland, as the highest law officer in the land, is nominally the head of the Bar.  Unlike many of her illustrious predecessors, she is however clearly without shame…

In the coming weeks Guido is looking forward to the next round of expense scandal, the 2008 – ’09 expenses are soon to be released and the Legg letters are going to demand re-payments from MPs who ‘mis-claimed’.   Hundreds of MPs will have to repay over-claims (they are always over-claims) for mortgage repayments that paid down mortgage capital rather than merely covered the interest.  Tory grandees will be asked to repay claims for their stately homes, Nick Clegg will have to justify his serial refurbishment of home(s) at our expense, Gordon Brown will have to justify and probably repay his claims for a Sky Sports subscription and did we really need to pay to have his shirts ironed? It is not as if his wife has a job…

Not forgetting that we have Sir Christopher Kelly’s report with recommendations to the Committee on Standards in Public Life due soon.  The shadow report was tough on sleaze, tough on the causes of sleaze…

UPDATE : Guido almost forgot to mention multi-millionaire Labour peer Lord Paul, a big party donor and financial supporter of Gordon’s ambitions, blatantly fiddling his expenses. They are all at it…

Government of Lawyers : Equality Before the Law?

Sunday Sleaze
harriet_carAnother Labour minister and QC thinks the laws are for other people. Harman was on the mobile when she crashed into a parked car without stopping to leave her details. Under the 1988 Road Traffic Act, any driver involved in a collision with another vehicle is required by law to stop and give their name and address, as well as details of the vehicle’s owner and the vehicle’s registration.  Not exactly Chappaquidick Bridge, but that she drove off telling a witness ‘I’m Harriet Harman – you know where you can get me…’ is a little high-handed…

target-baronessThe other Labour minister and QC in legal difficulties is the Attorney General, Baroness Scotland. She is now accused of flouting the tax laws; she had no written contract of employment with Lolo, her illegally employed Tongan cleaner, there is firm evidence that no tax was paid for at least 10 weeks and Lolo wasn’t given any wage slips as required by employment protection laws.

Clear breaches of employment law which imply that for a period of time she was effectively paying Lolo cash in hand…

BAE Prosecution Will Be Political Decision

cash_planeThe Serious Fraud Office has announced plans to prosecute BAE Systems, for bribing its way into contracts from Romania to South Africa. For years, BAE Systems has been cashing in on massive trans-national arms deals on dodgy terms but it’s managed to slip away from investigation, not least with the help of government collaboration and a legal team that has strung out negotiations with the SFO over years.

In 2006, Blair slapped down the SFO for investigating a series of BAE deals with Saudi Arabia worth £40billion. Blair claimed it would endanger “national security” – and throw an inconvenient spotlight on defence just a year after the invasion of Iraq.

BAE has spent a long time cosying up to politicians of all stripes to earn its place as  the number two defence contractor worldwide. Along with other British arms mainstays Rolls-Royce and AugustaWestland, BAE funds the Parliamentary Armed Forces Scheme, a summer holidays jolly for MPs who want to “gain a broad view of military life” and “make official visits to Service establishments [where] they are normally treated as VIPs of at least two star or Rear Admiral level.” Sir Neil Thorne, ex-Tory MP and the founder of this “educational” programme, was a defence-junket goer himself back in the day and seems to have free run of Portcullis House nowadays.

So who’s making the decision as to whether to go after the weapons behemoth? Step up, Attorney General Baroness Patricia Scotland. Good thing we’ll all trust the Baroness to make the right judgment…

UKBA Want to Know the Truth About the Missing Passport

Tongan PassportGuido has established that the passport found in the UK Border Agency raid on Lolo’s flat was expired long before Lolo got her job with Baroness Scotland.  There is quite simply no way that she could have used that passport to prove anything to the Baroness.  The UKBA raid found the documents as described in Lolo’s interview in the Mail on Sunday.

What does this mean?  It means that so far no evidence has been uncovered to support Patricia Scotland’s claim that she saw a valid passport – obviously if the passport existed and she had taken a copy of it she would  have been in the clear. Noticeably in the earliest comments briefed to the press there was no mention of a passport, “She hired Ms Tapui in good faith and saw documents which led her to believe that Ms Tapui was entitled to work in this country”. Later in the week when investigators from the UKBA interviewed the Attorney General informally, not under caution, she claimed to have seen a passport. That is her line with the press now.

The Sunday papers have all been spun the same line

A spokeswoman for Scotland said she had given the same details to the UK Border Agency when they interviewed her, adding: “They completely accepted our version of events.”

Privately UKBA investigators don’t entirely accept Lady Scotland’s version of events without reservation, which is why they have been trying, without success so far, to establish with the Tongan High Commission in London whether or not a second subsequent passport for Lolo had been issued.  As yet they have been unable to establish conclusively the truth of Lolo’s claim that she has never applied for a second passport.

Consider the implications: if, as Lolo claims, she did not have a second passport it would mean that for the Baroness to be telling the truth, Lolo would have had to presented her with a false forged passport.  Forged passports do not come cheap, demand from drug traffickers, terrorists and other criminals ensures that the black market in passports commands high prices.  How would a cleaner applying for a £6 per hour job afford to obtain a forged passport? If Lolo is telling the truth than the Baroness has possibly lied to investigators from the UK Border Agency.

target-baronessThe only alternative explanation which would support Lady Scotland’s story is that Lolo did in fact obtain a second passport from the Tongan High Commission in London or from the issuing authority in Tonga.  She could then feasibly have faked a permission to stay stamp in the passport.  The UKBA investigation is going to find out the truth this week.  If there is in fact no second passport (the raid of course did not find one) we will be expected to believe the assertions of the Attorney General, despite there being no evidence to support her assertions.  We will be expected to believe that Lolo had the ability, finances and motivation to obtain a forged passport merely to get a minimum wage cleaning job.  Does that make more sense than the reason the Baroness did not make a copy of the passport is that there simply wasn’t a passport to copy?

The Baroness better hope the Tongan authorities uncover a second passport application…

UPDATE : In the comments the question is posed as to why the UKBA determined and issued a fine so fast.  The simple answer is they were under tremendous political pressure.  The fine was half the maximum £10,000 because the Baroness had “cooperated”Summary justice in 36 hours is amazing.

The Magical Disappearing Tongan Passport

Guido is off for a picnic and possibly a post-picnic snooze. When Guido gets back he’ll be blogging information which will give the Baroness a sleepless night…[…]

+ READ MORE +

Sunday Sleaze Repeat

Sunday SleazeFiddler

This Sunday the central sleaze story is still Patricia Scotland…

Sunday Times on how the Cabinet Office turned a fiddle into a farce.

Mail on Sunday with Lolo’s own story.

Guido will have more after he has his breakfast…[…]

+ READ MORE +

Max Clifford Takes Tongan to Tabloids

Max Tongan

target-baronessDodgy Serbian non-solicitors, Tongans tricking Attorney-Generals and much, much more to come. Is it any wonder that Max Clifford has arrived on the scene? All this just in time for Labour Conference.  Gordon has expressed his full confidence in the […]

+ READ MORE +

Just Go

Lord Mandelson — who knows a thing or two about being sacked from the cabinet in the middle of a front page scandal — says of the Baroness “You have to inform yourself properly before rushing to judgment. That’s what […]

+ READ MORE +



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Quote of the Day

Mary Creagh’s coded attack on Ed Miliband…

‘I want the country to be united behind a single vision, we aren’t going to do it by sort of having a Rubik’s Cube approach to politics’. 

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