Labour stirs up Khanbhai row

A CONSERVATIVE Euro candidate in the region which covers Suffolk and Essex, who is at the centre of an expenses controversy, is damaging the reputation of his colleagues in the European Parliament and should go, one of his political opponents claimed yesterday.

A CONSERVATIVE Euro candidate in the region which covers Suffolk and Essex, who is at the centre of an expenses controversy, is damaging the reputation of his colleagues in the European Parliament and should go, one of his political opponents claimed yesterday.

Labour's MEP candidate Richard Howitt claimed the controversy surrounding Bashir Khanbhai was not only casting a shadow over the Conservative Party but also over the European Parliament.

Tory leader Michael Howard is expected to come under pressure to discuss the matter with the media today when he launches the party's campaign for the European elections in the East region in Cambridge.

Mr Khanbhai, 58, who has been serving as an MEP for the eastern region, says on his website that his political interests include "cracking down on mismanagement and fraud in EU institutions."


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He has repaid travel allowance money mistakenly claimed from the European Parliament following an internal investigation by Conservative Central Office. But the Tories have refused to say how much he has repaid or give details of the journeys he was claiming for.

Mr Khanbhai lives in Sevenoaks, Kent, but his website also lists an address in Wroxham, Norfolk.

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Earlier this year, a panel of senior Tory MPs and party activists cleared Mr Khanbhai of any impropriety over the Wroxham address after it emerged it was a poste restante address at a boatyard for constituency correspondence.

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

Commenting on the expenses row, Mr Howitt said: "Michael Howard (The Conservative Party leader) should de-select him as a candidate. It is a test of Michael Howard's leadership and if Michael Howard is hoping he can ride this out and hoping he can keep Mr Khanbhai as the candidate for the forthcoming elections I suspect he is mistaken.

"I believe this casts a shadow over the Conservative party once more but I fear it may also damage the reputation of MEPs. I bitterly resent that.

"The Conservative Party has a duty to make public exactly what their enquiry was about and to say exactly what these travel claims related to, and to spell out whether or not they related to Wroxham.

"If they were to say this is a one-off matter and we have dealt with it and he has gone, it would be a different thing. That's not happening at the moment."

Former BBC journalist and MP Martin Bell, who is standing as an independent candidate for the eastern region in the forthcoming European elections said he agreed with Mr Howitt's concerns about the possible damage being done to the reputation of MEPs.

He added: "Ultimately it's a matter for the Conservative Party and if they don't deal with the problem, I suspect it will be dealt with by the voters in the forthcoming elections.'

Jeremy Savage, the Conservative Party's Norfolk and Suffolk Area Chairman, gave evidence on Mr Khanbhai's behalf at the Central Office inquiry, chaired by Mid-Worcestershire MP Peter Luff, which decided to take no further action over the matter.

"Bashir Khanbhai has been an excellent MEP and has worked extremely hard on behalf of the people of Suffolk and Norfolk," Mr Savage told the EADT.

Mr Khanbhai was unavailable for comment.

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