Blair steps into row over $12m gift from Ma

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 January, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 January, 1998, 12:00am

The British Government last night turned up the pressure on the Conservative Party over a GBP1 million donation (HK$12.54 million) from the Ma family in Hong Kong.

Prime Minister Tony Blair said the money should be returned and the circumstances behind it revealed.

He told MPs that an official committee examining standards in public life would be asked to look at the issue.

The Ma family owns the Oriental Daily News, which said the money had been given in anticipation of help from Britain on a 'private family matter'. It said senior Tory figures knew of the strings attached. The family is demanding the money back after the unspecified favours failed to materialise.

Conservative leader William Hague, who has tried to distance the party from the reputation for sleaze which helped bring down the Government last year, has said the Tories will not accept foreign money. He said they had never accepted money with strings attached.

Home Secretary Jack Straw yesterday wrote to Mr Hague asking a series of questions: Why did Oriental Press Group chief Ma Ching-kwan give money to the Tory Party? Who was responsible for negotiating with Mr Ma on behalf of the Tory Party? Was he promised that, in return for his gift, drug trafficking charges would be dropped against his father, Ma Sik-chun, who is a fugitive from justice in Taiwan? Why is he now saying, as reported, that he wants his money back because 'explicit expectations' associated with the gift had not been met? Was he or his party aware of the Ma family's alleged links with drug trafficking? Sir Jeremy Hanley, who took over as party chairman in July 1994 shortly after the donation, said there were no conditions attached.

He said Mr Ma's family background was not relevant.

'A lot of people in Hong Kong have family backgrounds which are fairly colourful, and his family background was totally irrelevant. It wasn't shared with me.' Sir Jeremy said the initial contact came via David Davis, the Conservatives' then treasurer in the territory.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in Hong Kong yesterday that the Conservatives should give the money to charities helping drug addicts.