Saturday, July 11, 1998 Published at 08:06 GMT 09:06 UK
Fresh questions in lobbyist row
Francis Maude: did Roger Liddle do enough when he set up blind trust?
The Conservatives are pressing the government with a new line of attack in the row over political lobbyists.
The Shadow Chancellor, Francis Maude, has written to the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Richard Wilson, asking him to investigate the connections of Roger Liddle, the Downing Street policy adviser at the heart of the cash-for-access affair, with Prima Europe, a lobbying firm which he helped establish.
Six months ago Prima Europe was sold to another lobbying firm, GPC Market Access.
Until Wednesday this company employed Derek Draper, the former aide to the Minister without Portfolio, Peter Mandelson. The lobbyist was also featured prominently in last Sunday's story in The Observer, which sparked the allegations of New Labour cronyism.
Mr Maude questioned whether the steps taken by Mr Liddle to place his shares in a blind trust after taking up his Downing Street post fully satisfy rules governing such arrangements.
The shadow chancellor raised the issue after a search of company records revealed that Mr Liddle received an allocation of 20 shares in the company several days after he joined the Downing Street Policy Unit, and shortly before resigning as Prima's company secretary.
Mr Liddle had said he transferred the shares into a blind trust. Mr Maude, however, said an examination of the records showed the shares were transferred to the policy adviser's next-door neighbour, Matthew Oakeshott, an investment manager.
In his letter to Sir Richard, Mr Maude asked: "Could you advise whether this arrangement satisfies the requirements of a 'blind trust'?"
Mr Maude also highlighted a report which suggested that when Prima was sold to GPC Market Access, part of the £1.8m price was conditional on profit targets being achieved over the next three years.
This, Mr Maude believes, could mean that Mr Liddle retained a continuing interest in the company's success.
In his letter to Sir Richard, Mr Maude said: "Each of these points raises serious questions about the extent to which Mr Liddle has severed his links with his former company."
Downing Street has responded to the letter saying: "The blind trust arrangements were cleared by the Cabinet Office at the time although obviously, in the light of Mr Maude's letter, we will want to review all the material relating to this issue."
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