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Friday, 26 January, 2001, 21:47 GMT
Vaz defends his passport actions
Europe Minister Keith Vaz
The media attempt to quiz Keith Vaz
The second government minister to be embroiled in the passport application affair that forced Peter Mandelson from office has defended his actions.

Europe Minister Keith Vaz said he was "very happy" to have his correspondence on the Hinduja affair published saying the inquiry will prove he has done nothing wrong.


I'm very happy to have all my correspondence published

Keith Vaz
Europe Minister

The prime minister has also lent his support to the minister whom it is alleged wrote to both Tony Blair and Mr Mandelson about the controversial Indian billionaire Hinduja brothers in 1997.

The letters are said to have been written for Mr Vaz by the Hinduja's and their staff.

A spokesman for the prime minister said officials were still looking for any record of correspondence from Mr Vaz to Mr Blair regarding the Hindujas.

He added: "I'm not aware there has been any involvement whatsoever by Downing Street in this application."

On Friday Mr Vaz told the BBC: "Let's put aside all the garbage that's written about Peter Mandelson. Let's get at the fact. I'm very happy to have all my correspondence published."

'No details'

But the minister made it very clear he would not be giving any details until the report into the incident ordered by the prime minister is made public sometime in the weeks ahead.

The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats say the government is using the inquiry to avoid answering questions on the issue.

Earlier this week Mr Mandelson resigned from the cabinet for the second time since Labour won the election in 1997 after admitting he had made misleading statements over his involvement in the passport application of Srichand Hinduja.

Mr Hinduja gave a 1m donation to the Millennium Dome while Mr Mandelson was in charge of the project.

'Foolish'

Despite his resignation, the former Northern Ireland secretary's Hartlepool constituency confirmed on Friday night that he will stand as their candidate in the next general election.

The announcement was made by the chairman of the constituency Labour Party, Ray Waller, following a 90-minute meeting with Mr Mandelson.


Some of you are going to look very foolish when this report comes out

Keith Vaz
The Home Office earlier confirmed Mr Vaz made an inquiry in connection with the passport application of the Indian brothers.

Mr Vaz set out his position further while being doorstepped by the media in central London.

He remained defiant, telling reporters: "Some of you are going to look very foolish when this report comes out.

"Some of the stuff you said about Peter and about others and me you'll regret very much when the facts come out."

Waiting for the inquiry

When asked why the passport application of one of the Hinduja brothers had been successfully processed nearly four times more quickly than is normal he brushed the question aside saying simply: "It is not unusual for that to happen."

Referring to his connection to the brothers themselves he said: "I will not apologise for my links with the British Asian community."


I cannot see anything wrong with what has been done

Tony Blair
And the minister insisted again that he would not brief journalists ahead of the inquiry saying: "I don't want to mislead you. There is an inquiry I am not saying anything until I am asked by the chairman [of the inquiry]."

Sir Anthony Hammond has already begun work on his report and Downing Street has said he will complete it "as quickly as possible, consistent with a proper and thorough investigation".

A spokesman for the prime minister denied claims the government was trying to hide behind the inquiry as a way of dodging questions.

"There's no question of hiding behind anything."

Answers needed

And the prime minister said of Mr Vaz: "From the look of the papers I have seen I cannot see anything wrong with what has been done.

"Keith is a prominent Asian MP, they are prominent people from the Asian community - he made representations on their behalf."

The businessman at the centre of the affair, Srichand Hinduja, has denied trying to seek political favours.

Srichand Hinduja
Srichand Hinduja: Passport application led to Mandelson's downfall
But Shadow Home Secretary Ann Widdecombe also said questions needed to be answered.

"The big issue in all of this must be was there a direct connection between the 1m the Hinduja brothers promised for the Dome and the speeding up, or indeed possibly the success, of their passport applications," she said.

Lib Dem MP Norman Baker is also seeking more answers.

"We need to know exactly who lobbied whom and when, and for what purpose," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Nick Robinson
"The political sharks are circling, they think they've spotted their next victim"
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"He thinks all these questions will come out his way"

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26 Jan 01 | UK Politics
26 Jan 01 | UK Politics
24 Jan 01 | N Ireland
24 Jan 01 | N Ireland
22 Jan 01 | South Asia
24 Jan 01 | UK Politics
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