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 A/V REPORTS
The BBC's Tim Franks
"Government officials have spent a decade raising their eyebrows about the Hinduja brothers"
 real 28k

Committee on Standards in Public Life, Lord Goodhart
"It shows there is a real need for the Freedom of Information Act to be brought in as soon as possible"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 9 May, 2001, 15:45 GMT
Hinduja 'cover up' claimed
Andrew Tyrie MP
Andrew Tyrie demanded answers from Tony Blair
A Conservative MP has published what he says is evidence Tony Blair "duped" the country and mounted a "cover-up" over his relations with the Hinduja brothers.

Andrew Tyrie says five leaked letters to the millionaire businessmen, some signed 'Yours ever, Tony', show that the links went "far deeper than we were led to believe".


The contents of these letters show they were wholly unremarkable

Downing Street spokesman
Labour's Margaret Beckett, leader of the Commons, said Mr Tyrie's claims were an indication of the "sad desperation" of the Conservative Party with an election looming.

But he insists he is only trying to get to the bottom of relations between the government and the Hindujas, who were the subject of a passport inquiry earlier this year.

The affair led to the ministerial downfall of Peter Mandelson and went on to embroil Europe Minister Keith Vaz - who is also referred to in one of the leaked letters.

International relations

Three of the letters, published by Mr Tyrie at a Westminster press conference on Wednesday, are signed by Mr Blair and the other two by his chief of staff, Jonathan Powell.

They are mainly confined to international relations but in one, addressed to Gopichand Hinduja, Mr Blair says: 'It is always a pleasure to appoint people of talent and ability to the government and I have every confidence that Keith will do an excellent job in his very important post at the Lord Chancellor's Department."

Sample of letter from Tony Blair to GP Hinduja
Mr Blair signed his letter to GP Hinduja 'yours ever'
It was dated 15 June 1999 - a month after Mr Vaz was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Lord Chancellor, before his promotion to the Foreign Office.

Mr Tyrie, the MP for Chichester, claimed the letters were not released to Sir Anthony Hammond QC, who conducted the passport inquiry that cleared ministers of wrongdoing.

He said the letters showed the prime minister was "in extensive correspondence and contact with the Hindujas over a wide range of issues, and so was his government".

This was despite "strong advice" Mr Tyrie said had been given by officials and the intelligence services to successive governments that it was wise to "steer clear" of the Hindujas.

"The issue at stake here has never been merely whether a passport application was handled properly, it has always been why the government and not just No 10 felt the need to do business with arms dealers under investigation."

Stunt denied

Mr Tyrie went on: "Tony Blair has a made a mockery of the Hammond inquiry by withholding crucial information.

"He has duped his own investigator, parliament and the country."

The Tory MP denied he was deliberately mounting a stunt on the first full day of election campaigning or that the official Conservative Party machine was behind his action.

Although he would not reveal the source of the letters, Mr Tyrie insisted he had only recently been in a position to release them.

Blair reaction

Attempts to secure a parliamentary debate or statement from Mr Blair on the issue had failed, he said.

"I have no strategy or plan to do anything else other than get to the bottom of relations between the government and the Hindujas that have still not been made public."

Later, at the last prime minister's question time, Mr Blair told the Commons any complaints that he had withheld information from the Hammond inquiry should be directed to the "proper authorities".

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The contents of these letters show they were wholly unremarkable, and as we said at the time Sir Anthony Hammond had access to any papers that he considered to be relevant to the inquiry."

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