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Man arrested in UK political honours row

Written by: Staff
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LONDON, Apr 13 (Reuters) British police investigating whether peerages were awarded by political parties to supporters in return for loans arrested a 60-year-old man today, Scotland Yard said.

The BBC and Sky television said the man was Des Smith, a former government adviser on the city academy scheme, but the police would not give any further details about his identity.

Neither the Labour Party nor opposition Conservatives would make any comment about the arrest.

Scotland Yard has been investigating all political parties in Britain after a row broke out over claims that peerages were awarded to party donors.

The row, which has damaged Prime Minister Tony Blair's reputation, broke out after Labour officials revealed the party had received nearly 14 million pounds in loans from 12 businessmen, some of whom were later nominated for seats in the House of Lords.

Labour denied ''selling'' the peerages and dismissed allegations from political opponents that donors' companies got favourable government treatment in return for their support.

Police launched their investigation after several members of parliament asked them to look into possible breaches of the law, dating from 1925, that forbids selling public honours.

Scottish National MP Angus McNeil, one of the politicians who called for an investigation, said he was pleased with the news.

''I think basically the clean up of politics at Westminster has begun in earnest and of course I welcome that,'' he told BBC news.

The man was arrested by the Specialist Crime Directorate in the London borough of Redbridge today morning. In a statement, police said he was in custody at a London police station.

Blair had promised to be ''whiter than white'' when he came to power in 1997 after a string of sleaze allegations rocked the previous Conservative government.

As the row escalated, the Conservatives were also forced to reveal who had loaned their party money for last year's election campaign.

The Tories received a total of 16 million pounds in loans.

It later paid some of the loans back to donors who did not wish to have their names disclosed.

The Electoral Commission is also investigating the allegations.

REUTERS SHB BST1855

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