News flash from the Crown Prosecution Service:
Three former Labour Party treasurers – David Triesman, Matthew Carter and Peter Watt- will not face charges over proxy donations to the Labour party.
Serious concerns had been raised over money which David Abrahams, an obscure northern businessman, channelled to the party via several intermediaries.
As the Electoral Commission points out in a statement this morning:
“The law requires that political parties and politicians report the source of donations to ensure transparency and integrity in party funding. This is vital to public confidence in the democratic process.
“In this case, following discussion with the Metropolitan Police Service and the CPS, we referred the matter to the police because there was evidence that an offence may have been committed.
“The police decided to conduct an investigation, and passed the evidence to the Crown Prosecution Service.
“The CPS has concluded that the donation reports in question incorrectly identified the donor but there is insufficient evidence to charge anyone with any offences.”
Labour says it has tightened its corporate governance procedures after an internal inquiry into the revelations.
More to follow in due course.
Here is the statement from the CPS:
“The Crown Prosecution Service has today advised all concerned parties that there is insufficient evidence to charge anyone with any offences in relation to the incorrect declaration of donations to the Labour Party.
Three individuals, David Triesman, Matthew Carter and Peter Watt, were considered in relation to possible charges under the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 (‘PPERA’). All three were, at various times, registered treasurers of the Labour Party.
Stephen O’Doherty, reviewing lawyer from the CPS Special Crime Division said: “After a detailed police investigation, I have considered what possible offences may have been committed and whether there is a realistic prospect of conviction of any individuals for any of these offences. The Code for Crown Prosecutors requires me to be satisfied that there is enough evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each defendant. The Code also requires me to consider whether the evidence can be used and is reliable, what explanation the defendant has given and potential defences to any charge.
“As has been documented, this case concerned donations made by David Abrahams to the Labour Party which he made through third parties because he wished to remain anonymous. These donations were made between 2003 and 2007 and amounted to around £600,000 through 19 separate donations.
“Section 56 and Schedule 6 of PPERA require that a number of steps must be undertaken before a recordable donation is accepted by a registered party. These include taking all reasonable steps to verify or ascertain the identity of the donor.
“The registered treasurer of a political party must make a return to the Electoral Commission with the names and address of any person who has donated more than £5,000 in a calendar year. If the treasurer submits a report which contains inaccurate details as to the identity of such a donor, then an offence may have been committed. However, it would be a defence for a treasurer to show that he had taken all reasonable steps and had exercised due diligence to ensure that the report complied with the requirements of the Act.
“When this matter came to light in November 2007, the Electoral Commission decided to refer the matter to the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) for investigation. I received the main file of evidence from the MPS in late June 2008 and after consideration of the papers received, I asked the police to carry out additional enquiries.
“In this case, the true donor was Mr Abrahams and not those who acted as a conduit for the donations. However the reports signed by the registered treasurers who were Lord Triesman, Mr Carter and Mr Watt at the relevant times, incorrectly showed the donations as coming from those others instead of from Mr Abrahams. This forms the basis of the offence and is the primary element required to be proved to establish a realistic prospect of conviction.
“Lord Triesman and Mr Carter denied knowing Mr Abrahams was the source of the donations. Mr Watt said that he became aware that Mr Abrahams was the source but was led to believe that Mr Abrahams had ‘gifted’ the money to the conduits.
“As the donation reports incorrectly identified the donor, I had to consider what evidence I could rely upon if I charged an individual and what evidence I would then be able to bring to counter the statutory defence of the exercise of due diligence and the taking of reasonable steps to ensure the reports were accurate.
“The further enquiries by police highlighted inconsistencies in the evidence which meant that the prosecution would not be able to present a reliable account of what had taken place or precisely what the registered treasurers knew or did not know concerning the identity of the true donor. I concluded that I would not be able to rebut the statutory defence and therefore the evidential test in the Code for Crown Prosecutors was not met.
“After taking advice from counsel and discussing the difficulties with the police I concluded that there was not a realistic prospect of securing a conviction.”
And here is the Labour statement:
“The Labour Party notes that this matter has been concluded and that it has been made clear that no-one sought to break any rules. The Labour Party put aside the donations in question in 2007 and will now seek advice about the best way to repay these donations.
There has already been an internal inquiry and the comprehensive corporate governance procedures that have been recommended have been put in place.”