COMPLAINTS AGAINST MR KEITH VAZ
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
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.
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.
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.
32. In his evidence on oath to us, and in two sworn
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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 recordalthough
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. The natural
reading of the transcript is that it was Mr Kapasi and not the
journalist who ended the conversation.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
7. That Mr Bakshish
Attwal, a Leicester businessman, provided Mr Vaz with cheques
made out to Mr Vaz prior to 1997.
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
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.
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. Councillor
Thomas has confirmed this.
Mr Attwal said there was "no question" of any payment
having been made to the Labour Party through Mr Thomas.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
1, Annexes 3, 4, 5 and 6. Back
Annexes 118-21; Appendices 6-10 to the Minutes of Evidence. Back
1, Annexes 151 and 159. Back
94, 128-30. Back
58, 62, 65, 83-102, 110-7, 127-33, 139-46, 151-9. Back
106-8, 134-8. Back
Peter Soulsby's evidence (Qs 392 and 455). Back
1, Annex 6. Back
1, paras. 147-56. Back
370-91, 412-8, 431-3. Back
395, 397, 457. Back
1, para. 505. Back
paras. 253 and 258. Back
paras. 255-7. Back
para. 265. Back
Annex 56A, Appendix 3. Back
para. 266. Back
63 Q211. Back
1, para. 380. Back
20 to the Minutes of Evidence. Back
25 and 26 to the Minutes of Evidence. Back
2, Annex 6. Back
27 and 28 to the Minutes of Evidence. Back
2 to the Minutes of Evidence. Back