OPPOSITION politicians rounded on Labour last night after the Prime Minister pledged to hand back donations by North businessman David Abrahams as they were “not lawfully declared”.
A string of inquiries was launched into the handling of the cash with Gordon Brown announcing that more than £600,000 given to Labour by the Newcastle developer through middlemen would be returned.
Other senior Labour figures also admitted receiving cash from Mr Abrahams for this year’s deputy leadership contest, including Hilary Benn and Harriet Harman, while Mr Brown revealed his leadership campaign team had rejected cash from one of Abrahams’ employees.
As MPs demanded to know why thorough checks had not been made on the donations, Ponteland woman Janet Dunn emerged as the fourth intermediary through whom Mr Abrahams, also known as David Martin, gave cash to the Labour Party. She said that she and her husband, who are Tory voters, knew nothing about the donation made in her name until Monday night.
Last night the ‘reclusive millionaire’ David Abrahams, broke his cover when he called BBC’s Newsnight programme.
He called the show after the programme had dealt with the case of over £600,000 donated to the Labour Party by him though others.
Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman first asked him why he donated through third parties. Mr Abrahams said: “I give a lot to charity and I wanted to donate privately. That is the way I have been brought up I didn’t want my name in the media giving money to political parties.”
Mr Abrahams later revealed that he had yesterday received a letter from Labour’s chief fundraiser, Jon Mendelsohn which hailed him as one of the party’s “strongest supporters”.
Paxman then asked him if he knew whether Harriet Harman approached Janet Kidd or vice versa.
He said: “I cannot recall what happened in the case of Harriett Harman.” He said he had personally given Hilary Benn a cheque and that he backed Benn for the deputy leasdership of the Labour Party.
The Crown Prosecution Service yesterday confirmed it had made “initial contact” with independent watchdog the Electoral Commission, which is carrying out its own inquiry into the affair.
A separate inquiry was ordered into claims that Labour backer Mr Abrahams used two of the same intermediaries to apply for planning permission for a business park on the outskirts of Durham, which was approved last year.
Berwick’s Lib Dem MP Alan Beith: “It’s certainly a very serious breach of the rules on the face of it.”
Tory Hexham MP Peter Atkinson added: “Saying ‘We didn’t know guv’ is just unbelievable as far as I’m concerned.” Tory leader David Cameron yesterday accused Labour of ignoring the laws introduced by Tony Blair to clean up party funding in 2000.
He told the CBI conference in London: “There is a time in the life of every government when they’ve been in power for so long that complacency tips over into arrogance, and arrogance even becomes indifference to the law.”
Mr Abrahams insists he has never sought or expected anything in return for his support of Labour and is prepared to take legal action against any suggestions he had given money “in exchange for favours”. At Gordon Brown’s weekly Press conference yesterday, which was dominated by the issue, the Prime Minister said: “What has happened, where political donations have not been lawfully declared, is completely unacceptable, cannot be justified in any way, and this behaviour should never happen again in future.”
He added: “The money was not lawfully declared so it will be returned.”
Ms Harman last night said she would return a £5,000 donation made to her campaign to become deputy Labour leader. The Leader of the House and Labour Party chairman insisted she had “no reason to believe” the cash had come from anyone except Janet Kidd. In fact Ms Kidd was acting on behalf of millionaire property developer Mr Abrahams.
Hilary Benn revealed that he turned down a similar donation from Mrs Kidd after being told by Labour peer Baroness Jay of its true origin. He later accepted a £5,000 gift from Mr Abrahams in his own name.
And Mr Brown confirmed that his own leadership campaign turned down a cheque from Mrs Kidd, though he said that this was purely because it had been decided not to accept funding from any sources unknown to the team.