A former Liberal Democrat chief fundraiser has stood down as a parliamentary candidate for the party after he was caught on tape allegedly advising a fake donor on how to circumvent funding laws.
Ibrahim Taguri said he would continue campaign to become MP for the Brent Central, but as an independent. His announcement came following allegations that he told an undercover reporter from the Daily Telegraph that he could make a donation to the Lib Dems via a cousin.
The Lib Dem leader, Nick Clegg, said the party had acted properly.
Speaking on his LBC radio phone-in, he said: “The fundraiser has now stood down, he is now not a Liberal Democrat candidate, no cheque was received by the Liberal Democrats. If it were ever to be received it would be scrutinised by the processes we have got in place which has been audited by the electoral commission and found to be satisfactory and sound. The electoral commission is the third party, the dispassionate, objective organisation which should look at this kind of stuff.”
In regards to the cheque sent by the fake donor, Clegg said: “My understanding this morning is that this cheque is somewhere in Brent. But it has not been received by the Liberal Democrats, it has not been received by us.”
Lord Ashdown, the former Lib Dem leader who is chairing the party’s general election campaign, warned that Taguri would be expelled from the party if he stood as an independent candidate.
The allegations about Taguri, who has also stood down from his role as the Lib Dems’ champion on race equality, have been referred by the party to the Electoral Commission.
“This is a serious allegation and we are treating it very seriously,” Ashdown told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 on Thursday.
“It would be quite improper for us if we investigated this ourselves. It must be done by an independent third party. The organisation charged with doing that is the Electoral Commission. We will now present them with all the information we have to hand, Mr Taguri will make himself available to the Electoral Commission, we invite the Daily Telegraph to put all their information – that is the full tapes – before the Electoral Commission, and we will abide by any determination or conclusion that they reach.”
Taguri is alleged to have told an undercover Telegraph reporter that he could make multiple donations via a cousin to protect his identity. Donations over £7,500 have to be declared.
Taguri, who arranged for the fake donor to meet the chief secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander, is alleged to have advised the undercover reporter that he could make donations via other family members under that amount. He was also advised that he could backdate a cheque.
Taguri discussed a larger donation of between £50,000 and £100,000 with the undercover reporter after a meeting at Lib Dem HQ in January, it is claimed.
Ashdown told the Today programme: “The Liberal Democrat party has done absolutely nothing either illegal or improper. We have not received any cheques, we have not accepted any cheques, we have not banked any cheques. Before any of those things would have happened the most rigorous checks would have been carried out, as required by law and as we have consistently done on every other occasion.”
He said Alexander had done nothing wrong in meeting the undercover reporter posing as a donor. “It is normal, it is commonplace and it is common practice amongst all the parties for donors to meet with senior officials. That’s what happened on this occasion. That’s all that happened on this occasion. Any suggestion that anything more than that happened on this occasion is wrong.”
Clegg said Alexander had simply been polite to someone who had been presented to him as a supporter. The Lib Dem leader told LBC: “Danny is just being a polite guy just saying thank you to someone he has been told is supporting the party. The idea that Danny or any parliamentarian has done anything wrong is categorically untrue.”
In a recorded meeting with the undercover Telegraph reporter Taguri saiddonors could give £1,500 a year to a local association or £7,500 a year to the central party without the need to declare the donation. The undercover reporter then donated £1,450 to the party with a request that the money should be earmarked for Taguri.
Taguri then explained how to shield further donations as he suggested he could make donations in the names of cousins, it is claimed. A “cheeky” way would be to backdate a cheque so that it would appear that a donation had been made at a different time.
In an exchange reported by the Telegraph, the undercover reporter outlined his plans to donate in the name of his cousin. He said: “So I would transfer, you know £7,500 to their account and then they can make a call to your office. That shouldn’t be a problem?”
Taguri said: “Are you, what you want to, it’s, I can’t remember the figure, it’s, because it’s a cumulative one so you’ve already done the 1,450, so it’s the balance —”
The reporter said: “So 1,450 — 7,500 for me, and for cousins they can do 7,500 directly.”
Taguri replied: “Exactly, yes.”
In a statement Taguri said: “While these investigations are taking place, I will step down as Liberal Democrat race equality champion and parliamentary candidate for Brent Central.
“I am happy to cooperate with any investigation and I am confident that I will be exonerated of all the claims made against me. Not only do I deny the allegations made against me I am capable of demonstrating that I have gone above and beyond the legal requirements in the interests of transparency.
“I will continue my campaign to become the next MP for Brent Central as an independent candidate with the intention of achieving the one thing I entered politics to do, to end child poverty in the UK by 2020.
“I look forward to clearing my name and returning to the Liberal Democrats. I want to send a huge thank you to everyone who has supported me so far and I will continue to stand up for anyone in Brent Central who needs help.”
This article was written by Nicholas Watt chief political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Thursday 12th March 2015 09.10 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010