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The BBC's Jane Peel
"I was alleged the MP was paid 10,000"
 real 28k

Monday, 6 December, 1999, 17:56 GMT
Hamilton 'asked firm for cash'
Neil Hamilton (left) is suing Mohamed al-Fayed

A retired senior official from Mobil Oil has told the High Court he was "horrified" when former MP Neil Hamilton asked for payment for tabling an amendment in the House of Commons.

Libel Trial
Lionel Blumenthal was giving evidence on the 13th day of the former Tory minister's "cash for questions" libel action against Harrods boss Mohamed al-Fayed.

The retired head of Mobil's UK tax affairs said Mr Hamilton's inquiry about payment for tabling an amendment to the 1989 Finance Bill on behalf of the company "seemed like a hornet's nest".

He said: "It had never occurred to me that we might be called upon to make payment for what Mr Hamilton had done or proposed to do.

"The thought that he would ask for payment for that was horrifying to us, firstly because we didn't expect it.

"And secondly, as a matter of company policy, the idea of paying an MP for doing what he had done seemed very questionable indeed."

Tax concerns

The jury had heard that in 1989 Mobil and other oil companies were concerned about a clause in the draft Finance Bill which would affect the amount of tax they might have to pay.

Mr Blumenthal told the court that he had written to Mr Hamilton in 1994, a time when the MP was denying any involvement in the "cash-for-questions" controversy.

The letter threatened to inform the prime minister of Mr Hamilton's approach to Mobil, in the hope that he would have regard to it "in making a decision about (his) future)".

Mr Blumenthal said the letter was sent "as a private individual" in response to Mr Hamilton's attempts to deny press allegations.

He denied a suggestion by Mr Hamilton's counsel, Desmond Browne QC, that the idea his client had wanted payment was a misunderstanding born out of "Chinese whispers" within Mobil.

Mr Blumenthal said: "With respect, we are dealing with professional people. Tax people are rather careful in their language."

It is alleged by Mr al-Fayed in his defence that the former Conservative MP for Tatton "corruptly" demanded a payment of 10,000 from Mobil.

Mr Hamilton is suing the Harrods chief over a Channel 4 Dispatches programme in which he alleged that Mr Hamilton had corruptly demanded and accepted cash payments, gift vouchers and a free holiday at the Paris Ritz in return for asking parliamentary questions.

Mr al-Fayed denies libel. The trial was adjourned until Tuesday, when Mr Hamilton is due to begin his evidence.

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See also:
29 Nov 99 |  UK
Hamilton took 'wodge' of cash
26 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed cries in court
25 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed's fury over cash withdrawal questions
03 Dec 99 |  UK
Hamiltons' '2000 Ritz extras'
30 Nov 99 |  UK
Al-Fayed's ex-secretary 'not lying'
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