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Emma Udwin reports for BBC News
"Another day of grim headlines for the Conservative party"
 real 28k

Thursday, 25 November, 1999, 06:46 GMT
Ashcroft: I've done nothing wrong
Michael Ashcroft: Multi-millionaire tax exile

Conservative treasurer Michael Ashcroft says he will not allow a political row over his donations to the party to drive him from his post.

To resign would imply guilt. And I have done nothing wrong
Michael Ashcroft, Tory treasurer
In an article for The Independent, Mr Ashcroft said he would not allow what he called a "pointless, groundless and vitriolic barrage of smears" to affect his position.

It is the first time the multi-millionaire tax exile has spoken publicly since The Times newspaper reported that he donates 1m a year to the party through a Belize bank trust.

"I am not going to quit my post as Conservative Party treasurer. I am honoured to hold the post and I will continue working for the party," he said.

Michael Aschroft lives in tax exile in Belize
Mr Ashcroft is currently suing The Times over other allegations it published regarding his business interests.

"My private life and career have been crawled over, but those seeking to vilify me have found nothing to support their allegations that I am a drug-runner and a money launderer," he said.

"The worst allegation that has been proven against me is that I set up an offshore centre in Belize that might - note might, not has been or is - have been used for money laundering.

"Not the slightest bit of evidence has been found, however, to support this theory. That is because there is none."

Bitter war of words

His comments come amid an increasingly bitter war of words between the UK's main parties.

Labour said the donations broke the recommendations of Lord Neill's Committee on Standards in Public Life, soon to be incorporated into law in a new Act, which would outlaw foreign donations. Mr Ashcroft lives for much of the year in the Central American country of Belize.

The Times: Being sued by Mr Ashcroft over previous allegations
The Tories insisted that the donations by Mr Ashcroft - who is a registered overseas voter in Britain - did not fall foul of the party's rules on foreign donations.

They asked police to investigate, complaining that details known by The Times proved that their bank account had been "hacked" into.

Prime Minister Tony Blair dismissed hints of Labour Party involvement in the revelations as "hysterical ranting". Labour has now challenged the Tories to prove or withdraw the allegations.

New MP embroiled in row

Tory leader William Hague is now facing further cliams of Tory "sleaze" - a label he has been trying to shake off since his party's 1997 election defeat.

One of his senior MPs is reportedly about to be criticised by the House of Commons anti-sleaze watchdog for failing to declare his business links with Mr Ashcroft.

Bowen Wells: Reported to be facing censure
This follows a week which has also seen the Jeffrey Archer revelations and the Hamilton libel trial.

According to The Independent, Bowen Wells will be criticised for failing to declare his links with Mr Ashcroft when speaking in the committee's debates.

The paper said that the Standards and Privileges Committee has concluded that he was "unwise" not to mention his directorship of BHI Corporation - the holding company for Mr Ashcroft's Belize Bank.

However it said the committee had decided to recommend no further action against Mr Wells, MP for Hertford and Stortford and chairman of the Commons International Development Committee, who did declare the post in the Register of Members' Interests.

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See also:
16 Jul 99 |  UK Politics
Ashcroft: The Tories' troublesome tycoon
24 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
The rules on foreign cash
24 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Tory: Ashcroft must go
24 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Inside the Tory 'hacking' claims
24 Nov 99 |  UK Politics
Tory donation row turns nasty

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