Hasan Suroor

Embarrassing blow to Scotland Yard

Blair questioned thrice during probe

LONDON: The high-profile 16-month criminal investigation into the cash-for-peerages case, one of the most damaging episodes of the former Prime Minister, Tony Blair’s leadership, has collapsed provoking widespread criticism of the way the police handled the inquiry.

In an embarrassing blow to Scotland Yard and much to the relief of those dragged into the alleged scandal , the Crown Prosecution Service on Friday ruled that there was “insufficient” evidence to prosecute anyone over allegations that the Blair Government offered peerages to four businessmen in return for secret loans to the Labour Party in the run-up to the 2005 general election.

Among them were Chai Patel, a British Asian entrepreneur who loaned £1.5 million, and Sir Gulam Noon, the India-born “curry tycoon”, who gave £250,000.

Both denied that they had expected any rewards in return.

The vetting committee of Lords’ appointments turned down their nominations after it emerged that they had lent money to Labour Party.

On Friday, rejecting the police case, Carmen Dowd, head of the CPS special crime division said: “Having considered all of the evidence in this case I have decided that there is insufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against any individual for any offence in relation to this matter.”

The investigation, sparked by a complaint from a Scottish Nationalist Party MP Angus MacNeil, reportedly cost the public exchequer close to £1 million and saw the unprecedented spectacle of a serving Prime Minister being subjected to police interrogation in a criminal case.

Mr. Blair was questioned three times and several of his closest friends and aides were either interrogated or arrested.

Those arrested, though later released on bail, included Lord Levy, Mr. Blair’s personal friend and Labour Party’s chief fund-raiser; and Ruth Turner, a senior Downing Street aide at the time. She was hauled out of her bed and arrested in a pre-dawn police swoop.

Reacting to CPS decision, Mr. Blair said it had been a “traumatic time” for all those involved. He said he was “pleased” that the inquiry had ended as he always thought it would.

Lord Levy criticised the “misleading, incorrect and personally damaging” police leaks to the media during the investigation.

“For the last 16 months the people closest to me have had to endure the intensity and pressure of this long investigation,” he said.