Nick Clegg could be questioned as a witness by detectives after two senior Liberal Democrats were referred to the police by the elections watchdog following claims that they circumvented funding laws.
The Electoral Commission asked the Metropolitan police on Thursday to investigate whether Lord Strasburger and Ibrahim Taguri have broken the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Both men, who have raised money for the party, have denied any wrongdoing.
The development means that Nick Clegg, who was filmed by Channel 4’s Dispatches programme in conversation with Strasburger and a businessman posing as a donor, could be questioned by detectives if they launch a full inquiry.
Strasburger was recorded apparently advising Paul Wilmott, a wealthy businessman, how to channel gifts through his “stepfather”.
Neither Clegg nor the peer were aware that Wilmott was working with Dispatches on a programme about party funding.
Clegg was seen with Strasburger and the businessman at a reception in Bath.
The peer told the Lib Dem leader: “Paul is trying to find a way to support us without sticking his head too far above the parapet and we’re working out how to involve his family in making donations.”
Clegg replied: “A very useful thing as well: it’s not a financial year calendar, it’s an end of year calendar, so you can do things either side.
“But thank you very much for the support you give, it is much needed and will be very well used.”
According to electoral law a party must identify donors if they give a political party more than £7,500 in a calendar year.
It is illegal to attempt to deceive the commission about the source of a donation.
Taguri, who was the party’s chief fundraiser, is alleged to have told an undercover Daily Telegraph reporter that he could make multiple donations via a cousin to protect his identity.
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 the amount of £7,5000. 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.
The Electoral Commission said that it had passed details of the alleged breaches to the Metropolitan police as they were potentially a “criminal matter”.
A spokesman for the Met said: “We can confirm that the Metropolitan police has been liaising with the Electoral Commission regarding possible irregularities in relation to political party donations. There are two matters currently subject to assessment by officers from the special inquiries team.”
A Liberal Democrat spokesman said that the issue had already been referred to the police: “The party will fully cooperate with any investigation if they choose to pursue it.”
This article was written by Rajeev Syal, for theguardian.com on Thursday 26th March 2015 19.51 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010