Khanbhai claimed `undue sums': Brussels

By Graham DinesPolitical EditorA FORMER Conservative Euro MP for the East of England, sacked by the party in May over allegations of expenses irregularities involving a property in Norfolk, did claim "undue sums" in travel allowances, a European Parliament inquiry has found.

By Graham Dines

Political Editor

A FORMER Conservative Euro MP for the East of England, sacked by the party in May over allegations of expenses irregularities involving a property in Norfolk, did claim "undue sums" in travel allowances, a European Parliament inquiry has found.

Now Bashir Khanbhai, who was the Tories' only elected Muslim politician, is to defend himself to European Parliament officials in Brussels.

He said last night: "The matter is in the process of being resolved. No final decision has been made and I have not been asked to pay any specific sum of money.

"I remain confident I will be cleared."

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A confidential meeting of the Court of Quaestors – the Parliament's financial watchdogs – which authorised the Secretary general Julian Priestley to recover "undue sums" which had been paid in travel allowances.

The decision was made on September 15, but has only just come to light following questions from the region's Labour MEP, Richard Howitt.

In a letter to Mr Howitt, the Secretary General released the minutes of the meeting which notes that the quaestors "held an exchange of views on a proposal to recover undue sums which have been paid by way of travel allowances to a former MEP."

Action has been taken under a regulation which states what "where the Secretary General, in consultation with a quaestors, is satisfied that undue sums have been paid by way of allowances provided for Members of the European Parliament, he shall give instructions for the recovery of such sums from the member concerned."

Mr Priestley has written to Mr Khanbhai "with a view to taking the necessary implementing measures while fully respecting his right of defence."

Mr Khnabhai, who was elected in 1999 to the European Parliament for the East of England constituency which covers Essex and Suffolk, was deselected by the Tories just hours before the deadline for nominating candidates for the elections held in June this year.

The decision was taken after newspaper allegations that he had claimed travelling expenses to Brussels and Strasbourg from an address in a Wroxham boatyard rather than from his home in Sevenoaks, Kent.

Mr Khanbhai, who has always denied that he had done anything wrong, voluntarily repaid around £7,000 earlier this year to the Parliament.

Speaking from Ankara in Turkey, where he is on Parliament business, Mr Howitt said: "I have never prejudged the issue but there were issues which Mr Khanbhai had to answer.

"Mr Khanbhai denied making false claims but this report says that he was making those claims and justifies all our concerns."

The report from the quaestors recommends that MEPs should in future "be given appropriate guidance when indicating their `place of residence.'"

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