Shyam Bhatia in London
The UK’s most senior Pakistani-origin politician is in deep trouble after allegations that she claimed generous parliamentary expenses while staying at a rent-free accommodation in London.
Cabinet minister without portfolio, the Right Honourable Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, whose parents hail from Bewal, Gujar Khan, in Pakistan, is the chairwoman of the ruling Conservative Party.
The allegation against her is that on several occasions she stayed rent free at a friend’s home in London in 2007-2008, while claiming a £165.50 (Rs 14,000) overnight parliamentary allowance for attending the House of Lords.
Public records show that within six months of taking her seat in the House of Lords in 2007, she claimed some £12,000 in overnight subsistence (more than Rs 10 lakh).
It turns out that she also failed to declare to Parliament the many thousands of pounds of rental income from a two-bedroom flat she owned in North London. Warsi has admitted this was “an oversight for which I take full responsibility”. But over the issue of the overnight allowance claims, she refers to the “occasional nights” she spent at a friend’s home claiming she made an “appropriate payment equivalent to what I was paying at the time in hotel costs.”
Friend denies taking rent
The friend in question is a doctor and former Conservative Party official, Wafik Moustafa, who said Warsi used his property for four months, but did not pay rent, bills or local tax.
In a statement made to the media, Moustafa said, “Baroness Warsi paid no rent, nor did she pay any utilities bills or council tax. It was an informal arrangement, so no tenancy agreement was drawn up. I’m not sure how many days she stayed in total, but I believe my home was her main London residence (at the time).”
Warsi not alone
Under parliamentary rules of the time, those MPs from the House of Lords or Commons who lived outside London were allowed to claim overnight charges – usually the costs of a hotel room or rent of a flat – without submitting a receipt.
The underlying assumption was that all MPs were men and women of the highest integrity who would not abuse the system to line their own pockets. But in 2009, a media-led investigation revealed actual and alleged misuse of permitted allowances and expenses, prompting criminal charges of false accounting against three Labour Party MPs from the House of Commons.
Members of the House of Lords were also affected. Among the Labour Lords suspended from the Upper House and ordered to pay back their expenses was Jalandhar-born Swraj Paul who was ordered to repay £41,000.
Two others suspended for similar reasons and also ordered to pay back their expenses were Tanzania-born Lord Alibhai Amir Bhatia and Baroness Uddin.
In recent weeks, Paul has claimed he was the victim of racism, arguing, “In financial year 2010, I gave £1 million to charity.
Does anybody think that for bloody £41,000, I’d loot the country?”
Whatever the merits of Paul’s argument, his reputation never recovered. Described last year as the 88th richest man in Britain, he is a former deputy Speaker of the House of Lords.
He resigned his membership of the Labour Party in 2010 after an investigating committee after conducting a probe described him as “utterly unreasonable” and “negligent”.
PM under pressure
What happens to Baroness Warsi remains to be seen, but Prime Minister David Cameron is under pressure to take appropriate action while the issue of her expenses claims is fully investigated.