Pubdate: July 22 1999
Source: Independent, The (UK)
Copyright: 1999 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Contact:  1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL
Author: Peter Bradley, Labour MP


'The Drip, Drip, Drip Of Disclosures Is Becoming A Torrent Which Threatens
To Engulf The Tory Party' This Is The Verbatim Text Of The Speech In The
House Of Commons Yesterday By Peter Bradley, Labour Mp For The Wrekin,
Questioning Michael Ashcroft'S Activities:

The accuser

I would like to raise important issues before the summer recess, issues
which members opposite will not wish to hear, but issues that need to be
raised nevertheless.
I would like to raise important issues before the summer recess, issues
which members opposite will not wish to hear, but issues that need to be
raised nevertheless.

In recent weeks there has been much interest about Mr Michael Ashcroft.
There have been many allegations and many revelations about his business
dealings and about his relationship with the last Conservative Government.

Throughout it all the Leader of the Opposition has stood by Mr Ashcroft and
says he has no case to answer, and Mr Ashcroft himself has conceded that
his connections with the Conservative Party are causing it damage, but he
still resolutely refuses to go. Let me just remind the House, if I may,
just who Michael Ashcroft is.

He is a UK tax exile. His principal residence is in the United States of
America. His principal business interests are in Belize. He funds the
government party there, the People's United Party, which I understand has
recently sought advice on joining the Socialist International. He is
Belize's Ambassador to the United Nations. He is a citizen of Belize. He is
also a citizen of the Turks and Caicos Islands and as far as I know he is a
citizen of other places to.

But all these qualifications are considered adequate by the Leader of the
Opposition for his other job, that is treasurer of the United Kingdom
Conservative Party. This is a man about whom our own man in Belize warned
the Foreign Office, and I quote, of "a shadow over his reputation that
ought not to be ignored", though of course that shadow has been ignored by
the Leader of the Opposition. This is a man whose business interests,
according to a report by Rodney Gallagher, sponsored by the Foreign Office
as part of its aims for Belize, this is a man whose business interests were
creating a growing sense of disquiet in Belize, a sense of disquiet clearly
not shared by the honourable Member for Richmond.

This is the man, who our former High Commissioner Mr David Mackilligan in
Belize described last week as, and I quote, "an object of suspicion to
governments in the area", especially the Americans who have to cope with
constant war with drug-runners and money-launderers. He went on to write,
because this letter appeared in the columns of The Times: "He cannot escape
responsibility for establishing a system that makes Belize a much more
tempting target for drug-runners than it would be and for resisting efforts
to regulate it properly in order presumably to maximise his company's profits."

And that apparently is what motivates Mr Michael Ashcroft. That is the
bottom line. Not political convictions. I have mentioned that he not only
funds the Conservative Party in this country but the People's United Party
in Belize, not [out of] personal loyalty. Not public interest, but the
ruthless pursuit of his bottom line - of his profit.

He has made money out of private flags of convenience out of Belize, known
to have one of the worst safety records in the world. He has sold passports
according to The Independent [yesterday] for profit. He is prepared,
according to our own Foreign Office diplomats, to stir up trouble for
Britain in the Turks and Caicos Islands if he does not get his way. In no
fewer that ten out of the 40-odd votes for the United Nations since he has
been Belize's Ambassador he has voted against the United Kingdom. He has
opened the door in Belize, as I have said before, to money-laundering and
drug-trafficking through his interference with the financial sector there.

And it is the linking of Michael Ashcroft to the drugs trade that is the
most alarming part of this issue. On Sunday he told the BBC that while he
was aware of one investigation undertaken by the Drugs Enforcement Agency
(Adminstration) in the United States, he believed it had concluded in 1992
with its principal interest the country of Belize and not himself. Mr
Deputy Speaker, to be caught up in one drugs investigation may just be a
matter of bad luck. A big man in a small place at the wrong time, but there
is more.

I have seen documents, documents also seen by The Times, which are the
files of the Drug Enforcement Agency, the FBI and the International
Narcotics Bureau; all of them refer to Mr Michael Ashcroft and his business
interests. I have no reason to believe at all they are forgeries.

They are taken from the files of the United States investigation,
intelligence and enforcement agencies, and they make disturbing reading. In
1989, Mr Ashcroft's name was linked with a DEA drug-trafficking inquiry
that stretched across Europe, the United States and Canada and involved the
son of Jean Baptiste Andreani who was immortalised, if that is the right
word, in the French Connection.

In 1992, a Thomas Ricker was arrested and jailed for laundering money
gained from organised crime through Michael Ashcroft's Belize bank. In
1983, the DEA conducted an investigation of Belize-linked businesses, half
of which were connected to Michael Ashcroft; 12 of the 20-odd that they
investigated had links with Michael Ashcroft.

In 1994, the DEA files report observing Michael Ashcroft taking a flight
from the United States to the Caribbean, and it refers, and I quote,
"possible air-smuggling/money-laundering activities under way by Michael
Ashcroft", and it reported also that the plane was owned and piloted by two
suspected drug-traffickers. In 1996, he was the subject of another
investigation. In 1997 a man arrested in Holland on suspicion of drug
offences gave as his address the same address in Belize as Mr Ashcroft's
principal company, Belize Holdings. These are serious matters. I do not
claim that Michael Ashcroft is guilty of any offence. I simply do not know.
But nor does the Right Honourable Member for Richmond. But he, above all,
should be concerned about these allegations.

The drip, drip, drip of disclosures is becoming a torrent which threatens
to engulf the Conservative Party. And it is extraordinary that the Leader
of the Opposition has taken no action about it. After all, it was he who
said that just last year, and I quote, "We are not going to have in the
future any of the kind of controversies that have dogged us in the past
over funding".

He said it, but did he believe it and did he mean it?

If Michael Ashcroft was just another businessman we would take little
interest in him. But he wants to play a role in British public life and
that gives us a legitimate interest in his affairs. And that is why the
Leader of the Opposition should refer him to the integrity and ethics
committee that he established so recently. That is why he should relieve
him of his post as treasurer of the Conservative Party. That is why he
should certainly be considering returning to him the donations he made

Michael Ashcroft says he will not go, so there is only one man to decide
his fate. And that is the man who says he runs the Conservative Party. The
question is: does he dare? Does he have the courage? Can he afford, does he
have the power, to sack Michael Ashcroft because Michael Ashcroft is the
man who owns the Conservative Party?

His party says this is the party that [has made] sleaze a thing of the past
but which is running its campaign in Eddisbury on money from Belize, which
tomorrow will ask the people of Eddisbury to place their trust in it. Does
the Leader of the Opposition want it said that Michael Ashcroft is the man
who defines the Conservative Party? This is a real test of the qualities of
leadership of the member for Richmond. And that is a big decision to make."

The accuser

Peter Bradley, 46, is part of the 1997 Labour intake, winning The Wrekin
unexpectedly with a majority of 3,025 from Peter Bruinvels, a right-wing
Tory. Until Michael Ashcroft came into his sights, he was best known as the
leader of the parliamentary group to save the BBC programme, One Man and
his Dog. He is also chairman of the Labour Group of rural MPs. Before
entering Parliament he was director of Millbank Consultants, a public
affairs firm. His passions include Aston Villa Football Club. 
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