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Sunday, 28 January, 2001, 12:54 GMT
Vaz accused of Hinduja bias
One of the Indian-born brothers at the centre of the passport controversy lobbied Tony Blair to promote Britain's most prominent Asian MP, it has been reported.
Srichand Hinduja wrote to Mr Blair in the spring of 1999, complaining that there were no Asian MPs in ministerial positions, the Sunday Telegraph has reported.
Leicester East MP Keith Vaz was appointed to his first ministerial post, in the Lord Chancellor's department, within months.
Srichand Hinduja confirmed to the BBC on Sunday that he lobbied Conservative and Labour governments to increase ethnic minority representation in the civil service and at ministerial level.
But he said he had not specifically written letters in support of a promotion for Mr Vaz.
He told BBC One's Breakfast with Frost programme: "I'm not the person to decide anyone's Cabinet position.
The Sunday Telegraph reported that "insiders" in the Hinduja brothers' business empire had said that the letter was intended to influence Mr Blair into promoting Mr Vaz.
Downing Street said any communications received by Mr Blair had no bearing on his government bench appointments, which were made on merit.
A senior spokesman said: "I have no idea whether a letter was sent, but the idea that the prime minister would appoint anyone to his government on the basis of a letter from anybody is ridiculous."
The spokesman declined to reveal whether Mr Blair had himself had any correspondence with the Hindujas.
Mr Vaz has confirmed that he wrote letters to the Home Office about the Hindujas' applications for passports while he was a back-bench MP.
Mr Hinduja, currently in India to face corruption charges, also confirmed that he had asked Mr Vaz for information about the protections that British citizenship confers on its holders.
Mr Vaz said his actions over the passport application should be seen in the context of his role as a representative of Britain's Asian community.
He said: "We make representations on behalf of people at times. I don't discriminate against who I represent."
But he declined to expand on his comments until an inquiry into the affair by former Treasury solicitor Sir Anthony Hammond is complete.
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