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Wednesday, July 21, 1999 Published at 12:47 GMT 13:47 UK

UK Politics

Parliament hears Ashcroft allegations

The US files relate to inquiries into drug trafficking on Belize

The House of Commons has heard details from a series of documents linking Conservative treasurer Michael Ashcroft to drug trafficking.

Labour MP Peter Bradley used parliamentary privilege to read from files, which he said came from the US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Federal Bureau of Investigations and the International Narcotics Bureau.

He demanded Tory leader William Hague take action to determine whether any of the allegations stretching over the past decade affected Mr Ashcroft's position within the party.

So far, Mr Hague has refused to refer the matter to his party's ethics and integrity committee, despite an on-going campaign led by The Times.

[ image: Peter Bradley: Used parliamentary privilege to make allegations]
Peter Bradley: Used parliamentary privilege to make allegations
Mr Bradley gave further details of the DEA files relating to Mr Ashcroft, first published in the newspaper.

He told MPs: "In 1989 Mr Ashcroft's name was linked to a DEA drug trafficking inquiry that stretched across Europe, the US and Canada."

Three years later, a man was arrested and jailed for laundering money through the Belize bank owned by the Tory treasurer, Mr Bradley said.

"In 1993 the DEA conducted an investigation of Belize linked businesses half of which were connected to Michael Ashcroft. Twelve of the 20-odd that they investigated had links to Michael Ashcroft.

"In 1994 the DEA file reports observing Michael Ashcroft taking a flight from the US to the Caribbean and it referred, and I quote, 'possible air smuggling/money laundering underway by Michael Ashcroft'.

"And it reported also that the plane was owned and piloted by two suspected drug traffickers.

"In 1996 he was the subject of another investigation. In 1997 a man arrested in Holland on suspicion of drugs offences gave as his address the same address in Belize as Mr Ashcroft's principal company, Belize Holdings.

"These are serious matters. I do not claim that Michael Ashcroft is guilty of any offence. I simply do not know."

But he said it was "extraordinary" Mr Hague had chosen not to act, despite the "drip, drip, drip" of allegations against Mr Ashcroft.

He suggested the Conservative leader could not afford to challenge his treasurer, who has donated more than £3m to the Tories in recent years and is its single biggest funder.

[ image: Michael Ashcroft: Denies any link to cocaine trade]
Michael Ashcroft: Denies any link to cocaine trade
"The question is, does he dare? Does he have the courage? Can he afford, does he have the power, to sack Michael Ashcroft because Michael Ashcroft is the man who owns the Conservative Party," Mr Bradley said.

"His is the party that says that sleaze is a thing of the past but is running its campaign in Eddisbury on money from Belize, which tomorrow will ask the people of Eddisbury to place their trust in it.

"To be caught up in one drugs investigation may just be a matter of bad luck - a big man in a small place at the wrong time. But there is more."

Mr Bradley said he believed the documents in his possession were genuine.

Mr Ashcroft has previously denied all the allegations raised against him in a rare BBC interview.

"I have never been involved in drug trafficking or money laundering," he said on Sunday.

"My business affairs are entirely proper and no amount of smear, rumour or innuendo will alter that fact."

He said that if DEA or other agencies did hold files relating to him, which he said he did not know about if they did, then they contained "no facts that would sustain a charge as there has been no charge and the DEA has never even made any attempt to contact me".

Conservative MP Christopher Gill, responding to Mr Bradley in the House of Commons, said: "The House of course will be understanding that what he has said has been said under parliamentary privilege.

"But as I listened to him I didn't get the impression that he was able to cite any specific charges that have been brought against Mr Ashcroft.

"And could I remind him and the rest of this House of that very important principle and tenet in British law which is that a man is innocent until proved otherwise."

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