Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Third Report



29. The Commissioner reported that she was unable to complete her inquiries satisfactorily in relation to the following complaints relating to alleged soliciting and receipt of payments for help with planning permission or site acquisition in Leicester (in breach of the Code of Conduct) and failure to register payments received:

    14.  That in 1991/92 Mr Vaz offered, in return for £500, to help Mr Jaffer Kapasi, a businessman in Leicester, obtain planning permission or land acquisition decisions for a mosque.

    15.  That between 1992 and 1996 Mr Vaz received 3 payments from Mr Kapasi in respect of decisions on land acquisition for a religious building.

    16.  That Mr Vaz solicited £500 from each of three religious groups which were seeking to purchase land at discounted prices from Leicester City Council.[41]

    30. Mr Vaz categorically denied all these allegations.

31. In the course of four tape-recorded conversations with Mr Rajeev Syal and Mr Chris Hastings of The Sunday Telegraph and Mr David Leppard and Mr Gareth Walsh of The Sunday Times Mr Kapasi made detailed and highly damaging allegations of payments to Mr Vaz, by him and by the Dawoodi community, in connection with proposals for the construction of religious buildings in the Hamilton area of Leicester.[42] Extracts of the transcripts are set out in paragraphs 116, 135-6 and 142-6 of the Commissioner's memorandum. Evidence to corroborate what Mr Kapasi said to the journalists was provided by a contemporaneous note made by Sir Peter Soulsby of a conversation with Mr Kapasi in 1994 which he discussed with the then Town Clerk.[43]

32. In his evidence on oath to us, and in two sworn statutory declarations,[44] Mr Kapasi retracted and contradicted his earlier allegations. Except for one charitable donation he said he had never given any money to Mr Vaz, and Mr Vaz had never asked him for money.[45] He said that he had not wanted to speak to the journalists but they had put pressure on him. He had not realised that what he said was being recorded; he had believed that he was speaking off the record, and accordingly what he had said had no meaning for him. He acknowledged that "people do bend the truth".[46] He said that as soon as he realised what he had done he had attempted to retract his story. He was ashamed of his behaviour and deeply embarrassed by it.[47] He also told us that he did not accept Sir Peter Soulsby's account and had no recollection of having spoken to Sir Peter Soulsby about this in 1994.[48]

33. Mr Kapasi could not have been telling the truth both to the journalists and to us. He is a man with a distinguished position in his religious community.[49] In the wider world he is a Deputy Lieutenant of Leicestershire and a director of the local NHS Trust.

34. We are prepared to accept that the journalists may have been aggressive in their approach and may have given him to understand that the conversation was off the record—although we have not sought to put these points to the journalists themselves, and it may be that they would give a different account of the circumstances in which the interviews took place. We find it difficult to believe that a man in Mr Kapasi's position would make a series of detailed statements alleging highly discreditable behaviour on the part of a Member of Parliament, knowing them to be completely fictitious, in the hope that journalists would then leave him alone. The version of these events which Mr Kapasi gave in his evidence before us was unconvincing.

35. Mr Kapasi said that one of his conversations with the journalists had ended abruptly because the journalist had realised that Mr Kapasi was about to withdraw everything he had previously said and for that reason had put the telephone down.[50] The natural reading of the transcript is that it was Mr Kapasi and not the journalist who ended the conversation.[51]

36. Mr Kapasi refused to be interviewed by the Commissioner when she approached him. The evasions to which he resorted in order to justify his refusal were threadbare. His credibility as a witness is undermined. His claim that the Commissioner's investigation was tainted by an undeclared "conflict of interest" (which stemmed from the fact that she and Sir Peter Soulsby had served on the Audit Commission at the same time) was absurd.[52]

37. We are left with Sir Peter Soulsby's evidence as to what Mr Kapasi said to him in 1994. He said that Mr Kapasi had told him that Mr Vaz had suggested that if the Dawoodis could afford to pay a significant amount to acquire a site for a mosque they could afford to give him £500 as a campaign contribution. Sir Peter believed that approaches had also been made to other religious groups who were seeking to acquire land on the Hamilton site. He told us that there had been no explicit connection between contributions to Mr Vaz and assistance with the City Council over the acquisition of the site or the granting of planning permission, but there had been suggestions of grounds for concern about the conduct of the chairman of one of the Council committees with responsibilities in this area.[53] Sir Peter was not aware that Mr Kapasi, whom he held in high regard, had subsequently changed his story, and felt Mr Kapasi would only have done so as a result of being subjected to pressure from within his community.[54]

38. It was clear from the evidence given by Sir Peter Soulsby and Mr Vaz that the two are fervent political rivals of long standing. We have considered carefully whether the antipathy between them may have coloured Sir Peter's evidence to the Commissioner and to us, as Mr Vaz suggested to us.[55] In our view it did not. We were impressed by the direct and open manner in which Sir Peter gave his evidence and the frankness with which he dealt with the question of his relations with Mr Vaz.[56]

39. It would be unsafe to rely on what Mr Kapasi said to the journalists. Sir Peter Soulsby's indirect evidence that payments had been solicited in a discreditable manner in 1994 was based on a conversation with Mr Kapasi, who has been shown to be capable of saying things that were not true. Because of that, and because there is no hard evidence that payments were not only solicited but received, we do not uphold the complaint.


40. The Commissioner reported that she was unable to complete her inquiries satisfactorily in relation to the complaint —

41. The Commissioner has established that Mr Attwal wrote a cheque for £1000 on 31 December 1992. In the space on the cheque stub for the name of the payee there was written "Keith Vaz" and underneath "Donation to the Labour Party". The cheque was paid into the payee's account on 8 January 1993.[58]

42. There is conflicting evidence about other details. Mr Attwal said that the cheque was made out to Mr Vaz and had been collected in person by Mr Vaz's mother from Mr Attwal's office.[59] Mr Vaz denied that he had ever been provided with cheques by Mr Attwal and said that, according to the Constituency Labour Party (CLP), the cheque had been collected by the secretary, Councillor John Thomas.[60] Councillor Thomas has confirmed this.[61] Mr Attwal said there was "no question" of any payment having been made to the Labour Party through Mr Thomas.[62] In evidence to us Mr Vaz attributed Mr Attwal's reference to Mr Vaz's mother to a lapse of memory on the part of an elderly man.[63]

43. Although the Commissioner could not reach a firm conclusion, she thought it was likely that the cheque was intended by Mr Attwal as a donation to the Labour Party rather than Mr Vaz personally.[64] We shared that view, but in order to clear the matter up we sought evidence that the cheque had been received by the CLP. It would have been a satisfactory way of refuting the allegation to find proof of Mr Vaz's innocence.

44. The Commissioner told us that it had not been possible to establish from Mr Attwal's bank the identity of the account into which the cheque had been paid. We asked the treasurer of the CLP, Councillor Piara Singh Clair, to obtain confirmation from its bank that the cheque had been paid into its account.[65] When this was not forthcoming after a reasonable interval we invited Councillor Singh Clair to appear before us as a witness. He then sent us a copy of a letter from the bank indicating that records for the period in question were no longer available. He also indicated that he was unable to appear before the Committee when invited.[66]

45. Councillor Singh Clair had previously refused, in connection with another of the complaints against Mr Vaz, to let the Commissioner have access to the CLP's own accounts on the ground that she was not a member of the Labour Party.[67] We invited him to make available to the Chairman, in confidence, the entry in the CLP's accounts which demonstrated that the payment had been received. We were told that the CLP's accounts for the period had not survived.[68]

46. Mr Vaz told us that he no longer had his bank statements for January 1993 and that copies could no longer be provided by his bank.[69]

47. It is not possible to ascertain the identity of the account into which the cheque was paid. Mr Attwal's evidence that the cheque was made payable to Mr Vaz and was collected from him by Mr Vaz's mother is not sufficient to establish that Mr Vaz received the money or benefited personally from it. Accordingly we cannot uphold the complaint.

41  Appendix 1, para. 505. Back

42  Appendix 1, Annexes 3, 4, 5 and 6. Back

43  ibid, Annexes 118-21; Appendices 6-10 to the Minutes of Evidence. Back

44  Appendix 1, Annexes 151 and 159. Back

45  Qs 38-40. Back

46  Qs 94, 128-30. Back

47  Qs 58, 62, 65, 83-102, 110-7, 127-33, 139-46, 151-9. Back

48  Qs 106-8, 134-8. Back

49  Sir Peter Soulsby's evidence (Qs 392 and 455). Back

50  Qs 178-80. Back

51  Appendix 1, Annex 6. Back

52  Appendix 1, paras. 147-56. Back

53  Qs 370-91, 412-8, 431-3. Back

54  Qs 395, 397, 457. Back

55  Qs. 202-4. Back

56  Qs 404-8. Back

57  Appendix 1, para. 505. Back

58  ibid, paras. 253 and 258. Back

59  ibid, paras. 255-7. Back

60  ibid, para. 265. Back

61  ibid, Annex 56A, Appendix 3. Back

62  ibid, para. 266. Back

63  Q211. Back

64  Appendix 1, para. 380. Back

65  Appendix 20 to the Minutes of Evidence. Back

66  Appendices 25 and 26 to the Minutes of Evidence. Back

67  Appendix 2, Annex 6. Back

68  Appendices 27 and 28 to the Minutes of Evidence. Back

69  Appendix 2 to the Minutes of Evidence. Back

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