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Cameron on back foot in 'cash for access' scandal

March 27, 2012 17:32 IST

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Tuesday released the names of multi-millionaires who donated funds to the Conservative party and were entertained in his official Downing Street residence, amid mounting pressure for a full probe after a top party official quit for trying to sell access to him.

The practice of granting cash donors access to the movers and shakers in office has embarrassed several prime ministers, but Cameron tied himself in knots by first denying it and then bowing to pressure and releasing the list of names of people he wined and dined with at 10 Downing Street since coming to power in 2010.

The issue blew up on Sunday when Peter Cruddas, co-treasurer of the Conservative party, was secretly filmed by undercover reporters of The Sunday Times, promising access to Cameron and his ministers for a donation of 250,000 pounds.

Cruddas boasted that he could arrange private meetings with Cameron if their client joined the "premier league" of donors who gave the party 250,000 pounds a year.

"It will be awesome for your business.....You are not seeing the prime minister, you're seeing David Cameron...and you will be able to ask him practically any question you want," he said in the film.

Cruddas resigned after Cameron described his behaviour as "unacceptable", but calls for a full independent grew into the 'cash-for-access' scandal, promptly exploited by the opposition Labour party.

As per details now released by Cameron's office, there were four meals with donors in the prime minister's Downing Street flat, including one shortly after the 2010 general election to thank major contributors for their support.

There were also five lunches at Chequers, the premier's country retreat, and several visits to the country house by Lord Feldman, the Conservative co-chairman and a significant donor.

In total, the 15 people named in the list released have donated almost 25 million pounds to the Conservative party, most of it since Cameron became party leader in December 2005.

Labour leader Ed Miliband called for a full investigation, telling parliament that is about "the prime minister's chief fundraiser seeking cash for access".

Noting Cameron's absence in the House during the debate, he alleged that Cameron was ashamed to face MPs because "he has got something to hide".

The publication of the donors' names and their hospitality was an embarrassing retreat for Downing Street, which first refused to publish details of Cameron's private meetings with donors.

Francis Maude, the Cabinet Office minister, on Monday stonewalled requests for information, dismissing questions about possible impropriety as "nonsense".

The prime minister's office initially refused to discuss Cameron's "private" engagements in his official residences.

"If he wants to have friends around, that's a matter for him," a spokeswoman said.

But Cameron was soon forced into a retreat, first disclosing details of dinners in Downing Street and later of meals at Chequers.

Miliband said the episode called into question Cameron's judgment.

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