Examination of Witness (Questions 380
TUESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2001
380. Mr Kapasi discussed this with youthe
actual payment and the reason for it?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) Only insofar as he said he had
been asked for the money as a "campaign contribution"that
was the phrase he used.
381. Was he embarrassed to tell you this?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) No, at the time he was telling
me I think he was quite angry with Keith, and I think felt he
had been let down by Keith with regard to Keith's lack of support
for another councillor, a chap who was Deputy Leader at the time.
That is what motivated him to contact me at that stage and complain
about what he felt Keith was doing with this other councillor
and to add, "...and we paid him £500".
382. Have you had any other allegations of payments
of this kind for the sale of the land?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) None that I can substantiate.
383. When you were first told about this proposed
campaign fund contribution being required, you did not write to
anybody at that time. Why was that so?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) As I have explained to the Chairman,
at that stage there was no indication a payment had actually been
made and I felt I had done sufficient to protect the Council's
interests by ensuring that Merlyn Vaz, Keith's mother, was no
longer in a position to chair the committee dealing with the issue.
384. You did not, did you, because you left
her on the committee. That is what I do not quite understand.
She remained, as you say, influential on the committee that was
going to make decisions?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) Yes, but you have to understand
the difficulties of a Leader of the City Council. Unlike a Prime
Minister, Leader of a Council is not in a position to say, "You
will do this job", "You will do that job", and
"You will do the other job". Certainly in Leicester
City Council, it has long been a question of balancing competing
interests and seeking to survive the next group annual general
meeting, because council leaders only have a one-year term of
contract, as it were. I felt sufficient had been done to move
Merlyn from the Chair; and at that stage did not feel there was
very much I could do about the more substantial allegation, particularly
given (and if you see the transcript you will see the discussion
with the Commissioner) the long history of difficulties that I
have had with Keith where matters of propriety have been an issue
385. Was it not a compromise with propriety?
You allow the woman to remain on the Committee and be able to
make decisions, even when you believe she is on the make, or may
be on the make?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) I believe I had done quite sufficient
to protect the Council's interest, and also made sure that the
member who was in the Chair of the Committee was well able to
respond robustly to any pressures.
386. Did you mention your concerns to the person
who was the Chairman of the Committee?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) Not with regard to that, no.
387. Why did you not actually approach your
Council colleague, Mrs Vaz, and ask her or just comment that this
allegation had been made?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) Again, it is very difficult to
explain to those who are not involved just how difficult the process
is of holding together a political group on the City Council,
and the need to balance the competing factions within a group
and to maintain goodwill within a very tight group of people,
a very small group of people. I believe that I had done sufficient
to protect the interests of the Council at that stage. I believe
that by putting it on the record, as I subsequently did, I did
enough to make sure the officers were aware that this was an area
they needed to keep a very close eye on.
388. And presumably you, as Leader, should keep
a close eye on?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) Absolutely so.
389. When it came to that subsequent occasion
when you were told againand in your letter you say: "This
morning I telephoned Mr Kapasi who confirmed that he had been
asked repeatedly for a campaign contribution ..."did
he volunteer that or did you ask him?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) He had called me I think on the
previous day, and it should be clear from the notes, but he had
certainly called me prior to that. He had also spoken to Bhupen
Dave who was the Deputy Leader at the time and said something
similar. I returned the call and, in the course of the conversation,
he complained about what was happening to Bhupen Dave and what
he saw as his [Keith Vaz] role in that, and then added the information
about the £500 which he said he had paid.
390. He said that to you: "And, by the
way, I paid that money"?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) Yes.
391. You said he was angry with Keith?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) He was, yes.
392. Is he the sort of man you found to be truthful
in the past?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) Entirely so, yes. As I say, he
is a leading member of the Dawoodi Bohra Jamaat, which is a Muslim
groupit is a group essentially of traders and business
peopleand he has a very high standing in the local community
and is also involved in a number of inter-faith activities in
the City. I have the highest regard for him.
393. You now know him to be a liar because you
have no doubt had the opportunity to read the transcripts of his
interview last week?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) No, I have not.
394. You have not had an opportunity, I am sorry.
You have read the press reports, have you, of the comments he
had made to the press about this incident?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) Yes.
395. If he had changed his mind would that be
a surprise to you in view of your knowledge of this man?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) No, it would not be a surprise.
I am well aware from my experience of the extent to which it is
possible for people in the sort of position Mr Kapasi is in, in
the City, to find themselves under intolerable pressure with regard
to what they said about incidents of this sort.
396. After the second occasion, when you were
told on this date in April of 1994, did it occur to you to do
anything more than about Mrs Vaz, who was still a member of the
Council, still involved in the Property Committee, having now
been told she had actually taken cash? Did you think that was
sufficient, simply to tell an officer?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) Yes, I did at that stage. As I
have explained earlier on, it was a time of very considerable
political turmoil in the Labour group, and indeed I lost leadership
of the Council quite shortly after that. I put it on the record;
I told the appropriate officer of the Council and, frankly, from
then on had a lot of things to deal with.
397. You used the term before "intolerable
pressure": what do you mean by that? Be frank.
(Sir Peter Soulsby) There have been a number of occasions
when members of the community in Leicester, particularly members
of the Asian community, have been critical of Keith and have made
statements criticising Keith and subsequently changed the position
they have taken in public. Indeed, there were a number of occasions
around this time I am talking about when people changed their
positions. How the trick is achieved, I do not know, but it has
happened on a number of occasions.
398. You regard Mr Kapasi as an honourable man?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) I do, yes.
399. Would you expect him to change his position
(Sir Peter Soulsby) No, I would not.
1 Note by witness: The reason being that they
have not been made available to me. Back