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UK: British Conservative Party fundraiser resigns amid scandal
A British Conservative Party fundraiser resigned on Sunday after a report alleging he offered journalists posing as financiers access to Prime Minister David Cameron in return for donations of £250,000 (299,000 euros).
The party's co-Treasurer Peter Cruddas stood down within a few hours of the Sunday Times report and video of him telling the bogus financiers the contributions would allow them to ask Cameron "practically any question you want. "
"I deeply regret any impression of impropriety arising from my bluster in that conversation," Cruddas said.
"Specifically, it was categorically not the case that I could offer, or that David Cameron would consider, any access as a result of a donation," he said.
"But in order to make that clear beyond doubt, I have regrettably decided to resign with immediate effect."
In resigning, Cruddas emphasized that he had not consulted any politicians or senior party officials before meeting the undercover journalists, and he denied that donors would have been able to influence policy or gain undue access to politicians.
Talk isn't cheap
The Sunday Times reporters posed as Liechtenstein-based fund managers searching for contacts with Cameron and other ministers on behalf of investors in the Middle East.
Cruddas reportedly told the bogus investors that, with the funding, "things will open up for you." He advised them that a donation of £100,000 was a minimum, but that £200,000 or £250,000 was "premier league."
He said that once they meet Cameron, "within that room, everything is confidential, and you will be able to ask him practically any question that you want," he said.
He also reportedly suggested the bogus investors could influence party policy. "If you are unhappy about something, we will listen to you and we will put it into the policy committee at Number 10."
And when the undercover journalists said the money for the donations would come from a foreign wealth fund, which is banned under British election law, Cruddas reportedly said there were "ways to work around it."
He went on to tell them the access would be "awesome for your business," and explained that some of the party's bigger donors had enjoyed dinner with Cameron and his wife in their private apartment at Number 10.
Party image suffers
The allegations are damaging for Cameron and the Conservatives, who have been trying to rehabilitate their image. The party is often accused of being too linked to the wealthy elite and interests of business.
The Conservatives are already facing backlash following a budget last week that cut tax for top earners while freezing tax allowances for pensioners - as part of the nation's strict austerity program to cut its budget deficit. There were also some tax cuts for lower earners, but many Britons viewed the budget with suspicion that the government was looking after the wealthy and overlooking those suffering higher unemployment and falling incomes.
For those who hold this view, Sunday's allegations will do little to change their minds.
The party, in response to Sunday's report, said no donation had been accepted or formally considered, and that it complied with electoral funding legislation.
tm/dfm (AFP, Reuters)
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