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Programme highlights Friday, 16 March, 2001, 15:57 GMT
More evidence of Vaz obstruction
Europe Minister Keith Vaz
Correspondence between Keith Vaz and Elizabeth Filkin was published today
The background documents to the Keith Vaz affair were published this morning - 291 pages of letters, written and oral evidence.

There are more than fifty pages of correspondence between the Parliamentary Commissioner, Elizabeth Filkin, Mr Vaz and his solicitor Geoffrey Bindman, detailing the growing frustration on both sides.

These letters help to explain Ms Filkin's conclusion that the case had proved to be unusually difficult - both in terms of the contradictory statements made by some witnesses, and the failure of Mr Vaz to provide full and accurate answers to some of her questions.

MPs will see the full extent of the Europe Minister's efforts to block her inquiries.

The impasse was absolutely clear by July of last year, when Ms Filkin sent a list of 48 unanswered questions to Mr Vaz.

The reply, penned by Mr Bindman on July 5th, accused the Commissioner of posing questions not supported by evidence, or repeating questions already dealt with.

He goes on:

    "I make these detailed comments in order to explain why Mr Vaz is exceedingly concerned at the lack of clarity in your investigation in which you have repeatedly confused evidence, rumour, speculation and allegation and have not given Mr Vaz any clear indication of what the case is against Mr Vaz or the evidence in support of it. The incoherence, repetition and lack of method in your approach have led to its inordinate length, which has been very damaging to my client. He continues to await a statement of the evidence which he is required to meet together with copies of all documentary material or transcripts of oral evidence on which you rely."

Ms Filkin tried again, on July 11th, to put pressure on Mr Vaz:

    "The Code of Conduct places Members under obligations in respect of their conduct. Members are required to be open and accountable and thus are expected to provide me with accurate and complete information so that I may make a fully informed report to the Committee."

For the rest of the summer recess, little progress was made, and by November, the complaints from the Vaz camp increased in intensity:

    "I am sure you will agree that this is a most unsatisfactory and improper way to conduct an investigation. The questions in your recent letters (and several previous ones) constitute a type of interrogation which conflicts with natural justice and with article 6 of the European Human Rights Convention."

Come December, and relations with the Commissioner reached rock-bottom. This was Geoffrey Bindman's conclusion:

    "Your inquiry has now lasted for 10 months and it is difficult to see why it is still going on. My client is confident that he has answered all relevant questions and is not prepared to answer further questions merely "for the sake of completeness." Of course he will gladly answer any questions the Committee may have."

Vaz aggrieved

There's no doubt that Keith Vaz feels deeply aggrieved about the way he's been treated. In the oral evidence he gave to the committee, he complained bitterly about how some of the allegations shook his faith in human nature, and some - he believed - were motivated by race.

Yesterday evening, Keith Vaz gave an interview to the PM programme.

All outstanding matters have been resolved and have been dealt with by the Committee

Keith Vaz

He was questioned about the allegations that he was obstructive during the investigation by Elizabeth Filkin. He denied that.

But his main argument was that the final arbiter of his case - the Standards and Privileges Committee of the House of Commons - had cleared him. He said that they disposed of all the eight outstanding matters.

The report findings

In the light of that explanation, it seems worthwhile to review the course of events. The first complaints were received by the Parliamentary Commissioner in February of last year.

They concerned alleged undeclared payments to Mr Vaz by the solicitor Sarosh Zaiwalla. There followed a number of further allegations, both from Leicester, and from investigative journalists.

Malcolm Bruce MP
Committee members are unhappy with Vaz' response

Ms Filkin started work - until in July she sent Mr Vaz that list of 48 unanswered questions. There was no reply until October. Finally, in December, she took the unusual step of deciding that she would have to deliver an incomplete report to the Standards and Privileges Committee.

Mr Vaz, for his part, claims the credit for moving the process onto the next stage: hearings in front of the Committee itself, which began in January.

The Committee agreed with the Commissioner that one complaint should be upheld and nine others rejected.

But what about the eight cases not completed by Ms Filkin? None was upheld - but the Committee's wording in the main body of the report is - in several cases - revealing.

  • On two allegations of payments from the solicitor, Mr Zaiwalla: "We have taken this matter as far as possible. The evidence we have been given is inconsistent and unsatisfactory. In the absence of firm corroborating evidence that Mr Vaz received either the 1000 of February 1994 or another large cash payment we cannot uphold the complaint."

  • On allegations relating to a Leicester businessman and planning applications for a mosque: "It would be unsafe to rely on what Mr Kapasi said to the journalists. Sir Peter Soulsby's indirect evidence that payments had been solicited in a discreditable manner in 1994 was based on a conversation with Mr Kapasi, who has been shown to be capable of saying things that were not true. Because of that, and because there is no hard evidence that payments were not only solicited but received, we do not uphold the complaint."

  • On suggestions that a donation to the local Labour Party was paid directly to Mr Vaz: "It is not possible to ascertain the identity of the account into which the cheque was paid. Mr Attwal's evidence that the cheque was made payable to Mr Vaz and was collected from him by Mr Vaz's mother is not sufficient to establish that Mr Vaz received the money or benefited personally from it. Accordingly we cannot uphold the complaint."

  • On a claim that donations were solicited by local councillors: "The Commissioner has established from Mr Kamal's bank that he made payments by standing order in favour of Leicester East Labour Party. In view of the relatively small sums of money involved we have not thought it necessary to inquire into this any further. We do not uphold the complaint."

  • On the running of an organisation called the 50 Club which raised money for the Constituency Labour Party: "We are satisfied that the responsibility for running the 50 Club lay with the CLP rather than with Mr Vaz personally. For that reason we do not have to consider whether or not Mr Vaz complied with the Code of Conduct in respect of the 50 Club. The sums of money involved are in any event not large enough to warrant further inquiry on our part. We do not uphold the complaint."

  • On an alleged failure by Mr Vaz to register a property he owned in Leicester: "We drew Mr Vaz's attention to the rules relating to the registration of land and property and invited him to register any property which he had not registered but which was nonetheless registrable. Mr Vaz has now registered the property in Leicester which he uses as his constituency office. We regard this rectification of his Register entry as a sufficient outcome."

  • And finally on the alleged use of a company - Mapesbury Communications - to provide undisclosed funds for Mr Vaz's parliamentary office: "The information which has been provided to us does not lead us to uphold the complaint. The full accounts and underlying records of the company were not provided. Ms Fernandes refused to provide the information she had to the Committee as a whole or to the Commissioner. No evidence has been provided to the Commissioner or the Committee that establishes the absence or the existence of a Mapesbury link with Mr Zaiwalla or other significant contacts of Mr Vaz."

What is clear from these documents is the great difficulty Miss Filkin had in trying to get information and clear answers to her questions from the party officers in Leicester. Attempts by The World at One to obtain information from the people mentioned in the report were also unsuccessful.

Committee also critical

Some members of the Standards and Privileges Committee have already expressed their surprise at Mr Vaz's response to their report.

On this programme yesterday, the Tory MP Peter Bottomley said Mr Vaz had been selective in his quoting from the report.

And the Independent MP Martin Bell objected to claims by Mr Vaz and the Government that he had been cleared. He predicted that Mr Blair would have to withdraw the claim in the light of the documents published today.

Today, the Liberal Democrat committee member, Malcolm Bruce - was ready to go even further.

There were other players in the game, especially in the Leicester Labour Party who didn't cooperate completely or at all

Malcolm Bruce MP

The World at One asked him about those eight complaints which the Committee found "not upheld", but which the Commissioner said she could not complete because she had been unable to gather the necessary evidence.

He said that the committee felt the information they were able to obtain was incomplete and therefore they could not reach a verdict on incomplete evidence.

He stressed that some members of the Leicester Labour party were obstructive and that the national Labour party should bear some responsibility for their failure to keep proper records, particularly in light of new legal requirements about party donations which came in last month.

Malcolm Bruce MP
"The committee felt the information they had in front of them was incomplete"
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