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Thursday, 25 January, 2001, 13:53 GMT
Blair orders Hinduja passport inquiry
The Hinduja brothers: Srichand is on the right
The Hinduja passport affair has already claimed the ministerial scalp of Peter Mandelson - until his resignation one of the government's most influential members - but it is not set to disappear just yet.


Sir Anthony will report his findings to me and we will publish them

Tony Blair
The minister is gone from the Northern Ireland Office and the cabinet.

But Mr Mandelson leaves behind him the inquiry announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair into his longtime close ally's lie about his involvement in the Hinduja passport application.

Mr Blair told the Commons on Wednesday that a full inquiry would be launched into the events surrounding Indian billionaire Srichand Hinduja securing a UK passport.

Full review

Although the prime minister declared that he believed the application had been handled in "accordance with the proper criteria", he told the House he had already contacted former Treasury solicitor Sir Anthony Hammond QC to review and report on the affair.

Keith Vaz: Wrote on behalf of the Hindujas
Mr Blair said: "On the information presently available to me I believe that the application for naturalisation of the individual in question to have been decided in accordance with the proper criteria and so does the home secretary.

"Nonetheless, I have asked Sir Anthony Hammond QC, former Treasury solicitor, to review the case fully, so we can be sure the application was properly dealt with in all respects."

Promising full disclosure, Mr Blair added: "Sir Anthony will report his findings to me and we will publish them."

Inquiry 'will take weeks'

The following day Downing Street said that Sir Anthony had already begun work on his inquiry.

A statement said: "The expectation and desire is that this should be weeks, not months but we cannot be any more specific than that."

The terms of reference of the inquiry are: "To establish what approaches were made to the Home Office in 1998 in connection with the possibility of an application for naturalisation by Mr S P Hinduja and the full circumstances surrounding such approaches and the later granting of that application and to report to the prime minister."

As part of the probe, Sir Anthony is expected to interview ministers and officials in the Home Office in order to see how Mr Hinduja's passport application was handled.

'No wrong doing'

Mr Mandelson has insisted he did not act improperly with regard to the passport application, as Mr Hinduja has also insisted.

But the minister did admit he had misled Downing Street over his decision to contact the Home Office directly on the Dome benefactor's behalf.

And the details of the crucial telephone call between Home Office Minister Mike O'Brien and Mr Mandelson may well have to be published if the government is to put any suspicion of wrongdoing on Mr Mandelson's part beyond doubt.

Mr O'Brien has been firm in denying any wrongdoing by Mr Mandelson, saying the minister did not ask actually him to give Mr Hinduja citizenship.

The billionaire brothers are already controversial figures and all three - Srichand, Prakash and Gopichand - have been charged by Indian investigators with criminal conspiracy and bribery in connection with the purchase of artillery guns from the Swedish Bofors company in 1986.

Vaz and the Hindujas

But Mr Mandelson was not the only prominent member of the government who has acknowledged taking up the Hindujas' case.

Foreign Office Minister Keith Vaz contacted Mr Mandelson and Mr Blair on behalf of the Hindujas in 1997.

But so far he has been less than forthcoming on what exactly the relationship involved.

Instead Mr Vaz has said only: "It would be improper and wrong for me to comment on their individual problem.

"I am a leading member, if not the leading member, of the Asian community in this country. All kinds of people ask me for support."

Peter Mandelson is at the centre of a row over passport applications

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25 Jan 01 | N Ireland
25 Jan 01 | Business
24 Jan 01 | N Ireland
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22 Jan 01 | South Asia
24 Jan 01 | UK Politics
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