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Key Makes A Point Of Announcing Lord Ashcroft Meeting

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
John Key
John Key

Wellington, Feb 23 NZPA - Prime Minister John Key has made a point of announcing that he will be meeting British billionaire Lord Michael Ashcroft later this week.

But the meeting will come at a testing time for the peer with an investigation by the British Election Commission taking place into donations to the Conservative Party that are linked to him. He is the party's deputy chairman and one of its main backers.

During the New Zealand election campaign last year, some media reported that Mr Key appeared shifty when asked whether he had met Lord Ashcroft, before admitting he had.

It was one of Mr Key's few awkward moments in his push to become prime minister.

Lord Ashcroft has donated millions to the Conservative Party in Britain, but became well known in New Zealand for the $200,000 reward that helped lead to the return of stolen war medals from Waiouru's Army Museum.

There was speculation last year that National was seeking Lord Ashcroft's assistance, but Mr Key said at the time Lord Ashcroft had given him an update on British politics, but no donation was either sought or offered in relation to the National Party.

Mr Key told journalists today of the place and time of his meeting with Lord Ashcroft.

"Just making sure you are aware of that... up front. I don't anticipate I will be asking him for donations nor do I believe he will be offering those," Mr Key said.

The Financial Times has reported the election commission will scrutinise multi-million pound donations made by Bearwood Corporate Services, a Berkshire-based company associated with Lord Ashcroft.

Specifically, the commission said it would look at whether there had been "any failure to comply" with the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act -- in connection with a number of donations made to the Conservatives by the UK-registered company, a merger and acquisitions broker.

Donations by Bearwood to the party since David Cameron took over the leadership in 2005 have totalled more than Stg3 million ($NZ8.64m), including donations in kind, making it the party's biggest corporate donor.

The party has insisted it is satisfied that the donations are both "legal and permissible." Labour backbencher Denis MacShane, a former foreign office minister, called for the suspension of donations from the company to the Tories pending the outcome of the commission's investigation.

"Lord Ashcroft is not just the Conservative party's biggest donor but sits in Central Office running their election campaign," Mr MacShane said.

"It is now time David Cameron stopped ducking the issue of Lord Ashcroft's relationship with the Tory party and sorted out the shadowy funding arrangements that have become systematic under his leadership."

Lord Ashcroft has been the target of Labour MPs because of the huge influence he is perceived to exert through his financial and strategic control of the party's drive to win marginal seats, the newspaper said.

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