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Cash for access: 2 top UK MPs caught in sting operation

world Updated: Feb 23, 2015 18:51 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar

As general elections in May draw near, both Conservative and Labour parties were left embarrassed on Monday after a sting operation showed two of their senior leaders offering a fictitious Chinese company access to policy-makers for cash.

Both – Jack Straw (Labour) and Malcolm Rifkind (Conservative) – previously held the post of foreign secretary in their respective party’s governments. After details of the sting operation emerged, both parties suspended them even as both denied breaking any rules.

The sting operation was carried out by reporters of Channel 4 and The Daily Telegraph. Titled 'Politicians for Hire', it was due for telecast on Monday night.

Straw, who recently announced his retirement from politics after the forthcoming elections, said: "This is not the way I expected to be spending my last few weeks in Parliament. But I have done nothing wrong, I think quite a lot of people think I've done quite a lot right”.

He added: "This was simply about what I might do when I finished. It was an elaborate, very clever deception that was set up and in the end, if the condience trick is elaborate enough, it might work."

As investigations were launched into their statements on camera, Labour leader Ed Miliband wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron calling for a ban on MPs having second jobs. Straw and Rifkind have referred themselves to parliament’s standards watchdog.

Rifkind, who was knighted in 1997 and is chairman of parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee, is shown as claiming that he could arrange "useful access" to every British ambassador in the world.

On a salary of 67,000 pounds per year as an MP, Rifkind says on camera: “I am self-employed - so nobody pays me a salary. I have to earn my income." He said his usual fee for half a day's work was "somewhere in the region of £5,000 to £8,000".

Channel 4’s documentary shows Straw describing how he operated "under the radar" and had used his influence to change EU rules on behalf of a firm which paid him £60,000 a year.

On the subject of payment, Straw is heard saying: "So normally, if I'm doing a speech or something, it's £5,000 a day, that's what I charge."