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The BBC's Nicholas Jones
"The publication of all this information will be potentially damaging to the minister"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 6 March, 2001, 18:08 GMT
Vaz set to escape censure
Europe Minister Keith Vaz
No punishment? Europe Minister Keith Vaz
Europe Minister Keith Vaz is thought likely to escape punishment following an inquiry into his business affairs.

But the BBC understands that the House of Commons committee on standards and privileges has upheld "one minor complaint" against the Labour MP for Leicester East.

Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Elizabeth Filkin was asked 13 months ago to investigate allegations of undisclosed payments to Mr Vaz from businessmen in his constituency.

It is understood Ms Filkin was unable to reach a conclusion about some of the complaints because of difficulties in gathering evidence.

Commissioner for parliamentary standards, Elizabeth Filkin
Elizabeth Filkin is thought to have had trouble gathering evidence
Although the report technically clears the minister, some of its findings are likely to prove embarrassing for Mr Vaz when it is published - possibly next week.

Mr Vaz declined to comment on the latest speculation but has previously described the claims against him as "malicious falsehoods".

The Conservatives had been concerned that the long-running investigation was set to drag on beyond the general election expected in May.

The allegations pre-dated Mr Vaz's involvement in the Hinduja cash-for-passports controversy, which is subject to a separate investigation.

Planning application claim

The complaints against Mr Vaz surfaced when Andrew Milne, a former employee of City lawyer Sarosh Zaiwalla, claimed that his boss had paid 2,000 for an office for the then-opposition MP, and that the money was not properly declared and accounted for.

Indian-born businessman Srichand Hinduja
Srichand Hinduja: Passport application sparked a scandal
The inquiry was widened to include allegations that Mr Vaz took money from businessmen in his constituency, one of whom sought help with a planning application.

Mr Hinduja became embroiled in the cash-for-passports saga as a result of his involvement in the passport application of Srichand Hinduja, one of the controversial billionaire Hinduja brothers who donated 1m to the Millennium Dome.

Mr Vaz wrote to both the prime minister and Peter Mandelson raising the cases of the Hinduja brothers in 1997, but has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Mandelson resigned as Northern Ireland secretary in January after giving conflicting accounts about a disputed telephone call to a fellow minister concerning the passport application.

Changed tack

There were further unwanted headlines for Mr Vaz when it also emerged that he had used the Foreign Office to host a meeting between an Asian restaurateur - also a Labour backer - and an insurance company in order to help settle a disputed claim between the two.

The Foreign Office confirmed that the meeting took place and acknowledged that such a meeting on its premises was unusual, but denied that it broke the ministerial code of conduct.

The minister's financial affairs then came under further scrutiny when it emerged that he was on the verge of buying a 900,000 home in central London. He subsequently withdrew from the deal.

Newspapers questioned how Mr Vaz could afford the four-storey Pimlico property on his ministerial salary of 34,326 on top of his MP's salary of 48,371.

A group of prominent Asian and black figures sought to defend the MP against the attacks by denouncing the heavy coverage of his financial affairs was tantamount to racism.

But others criticised them for seeking to obscure legitimate questions about the minister's conduct by raising the race issue.

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See also:

10 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Vaz rejects property claims
06 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Asians rally to embattled Vaz
06 Feb 01 | Talking Politics
Vaz: Is the coverage racist?
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