Labour MP Phil Wilson has wrote to a Tory MP to ask her why she would not be returning a donation to tax avoiding company Sloane Robinson, after previously stating she would. He questions whether pressure from the Conservative high command, stopped the MP from handing back the donation.
Charlotte Leslie pledged on Monday to return £5,000 given by Hugh Sloane, the multimillionaire co-founder of an investment management company, Sloane Robinson. A tribunal had ruled that the firm had operated a tax avoidance scheme.
The Bristol MP originally told a newspaper: Nobody wants to take money that's not whiter than white.' But just hours later, she retracted the promise. A party source said: Charlotte realised she had made a mistake. She realised she had to change her position.'
Labour MP Phil Wilson wrote to her last night asking her whether she had been pressured into the U-turn following arm-twisting at Tory Central Office.
He pointed out that Mr Sloane and his business associate had given the Tories almost £1million. If Miss Leslie had handed her donation back, it would have put pressure on the rest of the party to do the same.
Miss Leslie received the personal donation from Mr Sloane in December. His company, Sloane Robinson, was ordered to pay £13million in unpaid tax and national insurance contributions to HM Revenue and Customs in 2012 after a tribunal ruled against a tax scheme it had used since 2004.
Speaking to The Times earlier this week, Miss Leslie said she would return the money and called on parties to take more responsibility for vetting donors.
Nobody wants to take money that's not whiter than white, but it's unlikely each candidate will root out every single financial irregularity,' she said.
However, after the story appeared in early editions of The Times on Monday night, Miss Leslie issued a statement saying she would not be taking any action.
I mistakenly understood that Hugh Sloane, who has donated to my campaign, had been found guilty of tax evasion,' she said. On further examination, it is clear that this was not tax evasion, and that there was no criminal prosecution of Hugh Sloane or of his company for tax evasion. Given this, I will not be returning the donation.'
While tax evasion is illegal, tax avoidance is not. A Conservative spokesman said: All donations to the Conservative Party are properly and transparently declared to the Electoral Commission, published by them, and comply fully with Electoral Commission rules. Any suggestion of impropriety by the party is malicious and defamatory and will be treated as such.'
Mr Sloane says that neither he nor Sloane Robinson owes any outstanding tax to HMRC.