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EDITIONS
Monday, 22 January, 2001, 20:00 GMT
Pressure rises in passport row
Peter Mandelson
Mandelson faces calls to explain his involvement
Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson is under mounting pressure to fully explain whether he helped a controversial Indian tycoon to secure British citizenship.

A series of senior government figures have come to the defence of Mr Mandelson, who approached the Home Office to see if Srichand Hinduja was eligible to apply for a UK passport.


He did exactly what any other minister would do, which is pass it to the relevant department, which is the Home Office

Tony Blair's spokesman
Mr Hinduja, who helped bail out the Millennium Dome, and two of his brothers, are at the centre of a corruption scandal in India in which it is alleged they received in excess of 6m in kickbacks over a 1986 arms deal.

In the Commons, Culture Secretary Chris Smith insisted that Mr Mandelson had "no involvement in endorsing or supporting the application at any stage".

That followed assurances from both Number 10 and from the Northern Ireland Office that the secretary of state had behaved properly throughout.

The prime minister's official spokesman said: "This was an issue raised by the Hindujas and it was passed to the Home Office and when specifically they asked Peter to endorse or support any application he refused, perfectly properly and appropriately.

"He did exactly what any other minister would do, which is pass it to the relevant department, which is the Home Office.

Srichand Hinduja
Srichand Hinduja faces trial for corruption
"Peter did not get involved - beyond being asked to get involved, which he did not."

But opposition politicians expressed concern over the controversy.

In a letter to the Cabinet Office Minister Lord Falconer, Tory front bench spokesman Andrew Lansley said Mr Mandelson "appeared" to have broken guidelines stating that Ministers should not owe favours to sponsors.

"There is at least the appearance that in this case ministers may have behaved as if they were under an obligation to a sponsor," he wrote

"There is also, clearly, the further question as to the extent to which the sponsorship may have given privileged access to ministers.

Full investigation - call

Mr Lansley said he would welcome a "full investigation into this and your explanation of how the sponsorship principles have been applied in this case".

Tory culture spokesman Peter Ainsworth insisted the issue was not about eligibility for passports.

"It is about whether Peter Mandelson used his position to pull strings on these people's behalf."

Liberal Democrat Norman Baker said in the Commons: "It seems to me that here we have the case of two people getting a very expensive entry ticket to the Dome and getting nationality in return."

But Mr Smith insisted that the passport application was "dealt with in the normal way by the normal people and under the normal terms".

He added that Mr Mandelson had "no involvement in endorsing or supporting the application at any stage".

Wrongdoing denied

Mr Mandelson's department also moved swiftly to reject any suggestion of wrongdoing on the part of the Northern Ireland secretary.

"He did not support or endorse any passport application, nor would he have considered doing so," a spokesman said.

The statement also said that Mr Mandelson was not involved in handling the 1m donation made by Mr Hinduja and his brother Gopichand to fund the dome's faith zone.

Labour Party officials confirmed that Mr Mandelson had made inquiries through his private office to find out whether Mr Hinduja would be successful if he re-applied for citizenship, having been turned down the first time.

The millionaire businessman then submitted his second application in March 1999 and received his passport after six months.

See also:

18 Jan 01 | Business
15 Oct 00 | Business
12 Dec 00 | South Asia
19 Jan 01 | South Asia
22 Jan 01 | South Asia
16 Sep 99 | UK Politics
04 Jan 99 | UK Politics
23 Dec 98 | UK Politics
Internet links:


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