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UK's Conservatives fined over donation for refurbishment of PM's home

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By Reuters
UK's Conservatives fined over donation for refurbishment of PM's home
UK's Conservatives fined over donation for refurbishment of PM's home   -   Copyright  Thomson Reuters 2021

By Kylie MacLellan

LONDON -Britain’s governing Conservative Party was fined 17,800 pounds ($23,500) by the electoral watchdog on Thursday for failing to accurately report a donation which helped fund the refurbishment of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official residence.

Johnson has faced intense scrutiny over how the financing of the refurbishment, estimated by some media to have run into hundreds of thousands of pounds on what the Sun newspaper has described as garish furniture and embossed wallpaper.

It is the latest in a series of scandals to have dogged Johnson, under fire over reported parties at his Downing Street residence during last year’s lockdown, the awarding of COVID contracts and the chaotic evacuation from Afghanistan.

In May, an official report into the funding of the refurbishment was critical of Johnson but cleared him of a conflict of interest or of breaching the ministerial code.

But on Thursday the Electoral Commission said it had found Conservative Party donor David Brownlow donated 67,801 pounds but the party only reported 15,000 pounds of it.

The remaining 52,801 was to cover the cost of three invoices relating to the refurbishment of Downing Street, it said.

“Our investigation concluded that the full amount of the 67,801.72 pounds was a donation and should have been reported to the Commission,” it said in a statement.

“We also concluded that the reference to the payment made by the party for the refurbishment in the party’s financial records was not accurately recorded.”

Johnson’s spokesman said that the prime minister knew Brownlow was managing the funds but not that he was the source of the funds as it was operating as a blind trust.

The opposition Labour Party said the Commission’s findings raised new questions about Johnson’s knowledge of the donation.

The official investigation published in May found Johnson was unaware that Brownlow had settled an invoice for some of the refurbishment cost, but the Electoral Commission said the prime minister had contacted the donor about the funding.

“The Prime Minister messaged Lord Brownlow via WhatsApp asking him to authorise further, at that stage unspecified, refurbishment works on the residence. Lord Brownlow agreed to do so,” it said.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “Boris Johnson has taken the British public for fools.”

($1 = 0.7583 pounds)