Khabhai sacked in expenses row

EAST Anglia's Conservatives were plunged into turmoil last night when Euro MP Bashir Khanbhai was prevented from seeking re-election following the row over his travel expenses.

By Graham Dines

EAST Anglia's Conservatives were plunged into turmoil last night when Euro MP Bashir Khanbhai was prevented from seeking re-election following the row over his travel expenses.

Just 24 hours before nominations close for June 10's European Parliament elections, the party ended weeks of speculation over Mr Khanbhai's fate in a simple two-sentence statement.

It said: "The Board of the Conservative Party has removed Bashir Khanbhai MEP from the Party's list of candidates for the Eastern region in the European elections on June 10.

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"In the light of new information about his travel allowance claims sent to the Conservative Party by Mr Khanbhai on May 10, John Taylor, the Chairman of the Board's Committee on Candidates, will be referring a number of issues to the European Parliament authorities for further investigation."

A spokesman later said the Board concluded there were "wide discrepancies" in these travel expense claims.

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Last Friday, Conservative leader Michael Howard publicly backed his beleaguered MEP, but insisted the final matter was not for him.

After media speculation continued over the weekend, the party's ruling Board met yesterday and decided that Mr Khanbhai, who lives in Sevenoaks, should be removed from the list.

However, Mr Khanbhai last night hit out at his treatment by the party, saying he had been given "no sensible opportunity" to respond to further allegations about his expenses which he claimed had "not been supported with any new evidence."

A statement issued to the EADT on his behalf said: "Mr Howard expressly stated his support for Mr Khanbhai and confirmed that he would be retained as a candidate in third position on the Eastern Region List.

"The President of the College of Quaestors of the European Parliament and the Secretary General of the European Parliament have today both confirmed that there has been no complaint to either of them about Mr Khanbhai's travel expenses between his Wroxham constituency address and the European

Parliament. He continues to maintain his innocence, as he has throughout. Until now he has not been permitted to make any statements to the Press.

"He thanks his Conservative supporters and constituents for their enormous support and regrets that he has been denied the opportunity by the Party to continue to serve them as he has done over the last five years."

Mr Khanbhai's removal means the Conservatives will only be fielding six candidates for the seven

vacancies in the constituency. A spokesman for Central Office said it was "too late" to put in place a

replacement on the party's list.

The row started at the end of February when it was discovered a constituency address circulated by Mr Khanbhai was in fact a post restante in a Wroxham boatyard used for correspondence.

He strenuously denied he was trying to mislead constituents into believing his home was in Norfolk.

Mr Khanbhai then repaid more than £6,500 in travel expenses - although the Conservative Party has refused to give details of the journeys he was claiming for.

Mr Khanbhai, 58, married with one son, had until last night consistently refused to comment on the allegations, which were finally made public last week in a statement from Conservative Central Office.

In April, the Party Board's Committee on Candidates recommended Mr Khanbhai should be removed from the approved list of candidates. But Mr Khanbhai appealed to the Full Committee on Candidates.

That committee said it concurred with the original panel in concluding that Mr Khanbhai should have shown "more diligence'.

But it said that it felt that Mr Khanbhai had made an "inadvertent error' which he regretted and that his name should stay on the list of candidates.

He was finally deselected yesterday afternoon .

Conservative activists have been bewildered by the accusations and also his silence, which is believed to have been insisted upon by the Tory high command.

Although Mr Khanbhai is popular with the Tory rank and file in Suffolk and Norfolk, a number of constituency officials contacted Conservative Central Office concerned at the impact the speculation was having on their election chances.

With the Conservatives widely tipped to retain four seats in the East region on June 10, Mr Khanbhai's deselection propels former Ipswich Conservative Association Chairman Jonathan Morgan into fourth place on the Tory list in the proportional representation elections.

Eunice Hanna , President of the Central Suffolk and Ipswich North Conservative Association and one of the most senior activists in East Anglia, said: "I am deeply upset. We are losing one of the most talented MEPs we have ever had in the East of England."

However, one of the East region's Labour Euro MP candidates Richard Howitt said: "Only five days ago, Michael Howard launched the Conservatives' election campaign in the East of England giving Mr Khanbhai his full and undivided support. Today's decision shows what a gross error of judgement that was."

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