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The BBC's Robin Chrystal
"The Prime Minister has set up an inquiry"
 real 56k

Michael Prescott, Political Editor, The Sunday Times
"It seems as though Peter Mandelson is not going to go quietly"
 real 28k

The Business man SP Hinduja
"I just casually inquired about the progress of my application"
 real 56k

Sunday, 28 January, 2001, 15:18 GMT
Mandelson aims to clear his name
Peter Mandelson insists he did not lie
Mandelson insists he did not lie
Former Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Mandelson has denied lying about his role in the Hinduja passport affair and pledged to clear his name.

He said he was "rushed" into resigning from the Cabinet before establishing the full facts of the passport allegations.

I know I have a mountain to climb before reversing this error, but I know I have to start somewhere

Peter Mandelson

One of the wealthy brothers at the centre of the controversy, SP Hinduja, has denied that Mr Mandelson helped speed up his application for a British passport.

At the same time, Downing Street has moved to quell rumours of a rift between Mr Mandelson and Tony Blair's official spokesman, Alastair Campbell.

'Moment of weakness'

Mr Mandelson resigned his Cabinet post on Wednesday after giving contradictory accounts of his part in the passport application of a wealthy Indian businessman.

Writing in the Sunday Times, he says he had stepped down in a "moment of weakness" as pressure mounted for an explanation in the face of "incomplete" facts.

Peter Mandelson leaves his London home with his protection officer
Peter Mandelson has pledged to clear his name
He speaks of feeling "isolated" and being unable to defend himself at a Downing Street meeting, pledging to clear his name.

He says: "It has been a long and terrible week for me and everyone else involved.

"A small mistake - a failure to focus on a small matter - had turned into a monumental disaster.

"I know I have a mountain to climb before reversing this error, but I know I have to start somewhere."

International Development Secretary Clare Short said Mr Mandelson resigned "because he has got problems with the truth".

She told BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend programme that he "wasn't accurate, didn't speak the truth, let himself down and the government. He is one politician, there is a world out there. Peter Mandelson is over."

'Nothing wrong'

Mr Mandelson may find some solace in comments by SP Hinduja.

Mr Hinduja told the BBC Breakfast with Frost programme he felt he had "done nothing wrong" in merely asking Mr Mandelson about the progress of his application.

Speaking from India, Mr Hinduja said he was perfectly justified in approaching both Mr Mandelson, Europe Minister Keith Vaz and "other individuals" to check the progress of his passport application.
SP Hinduja
Mr Hinduja denied any wrongdoing

He said: "I don't see there's anything wrong in asking about the progress of an application. It is the duty of any politician to assist and help."

Mr Hinduja also denied there was any link between his 1m Dome donation at the time Mr Mandelson was in charge of the project and the speed with which he received his British passport.

He said he had made many charitable donations to the UK over the years, including during the time of the Thatcher-led government.

Rift denied

The passport affair has led to numerous newspaper reports of a rift inside Downing Street.

The prime minister's spokesman, Alastair Campbell, is quoted as describing Mr Mandelson as being slightly detached about the events leading up to his resignation, putting it down to his involvement in Northern Ireland.

In The Observer, Mr Campbell is quoted as saying that Mr Mandelson "didn't have the normal focus."

But he has denied "knifing" Mr Mandelson.

"I do not deny saying the words attributed to me, but that has not prevented misrepresentation," he said.

Apology sought

The Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, who first brought the affair to the public's notice, said the latest revelations looked bad for the government.

Keith Vaz
Keith Vaz faces renewed allegations
He told the BBC: "What looked a week ago like a seamless operation from the Labour government now looks to be an operation in tatters."

The Conservatives demanded that Mr Blair apologise to the British people over the Mandelson passport affair.

Shadow defence secretary Iain Duncan Smith said Mr Blair seemed "incapable" of saying sorry and he urged the government to "come clean" over the affair.

Keith Vaz also faces fresh controversy over new allegations about his links to the wealthy Hinduja brothers.

He was made a minister shortly after the brothers lobbied Prime Minister Tony Blair to complain there were no Asian MPs in ministerial positions, the Sunday Telegraph reports.

While Mr Hinduja did not deny any correspondence with the prime minister over such an issue, he said he had never referred specifically to Mr Vaz.

He said: "The decision is with the prime minister. Who am I to decide?"

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