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U.K.’s leader faces watchdog scrutiny

by The Associated Press | April 29, 2021 at 4:03 a.m.

LONDON — Britain’s political spending watchdog said Wednesday that it was scaling up an investigation into Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s finances, saying there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect an offense had been committed over the pricey refurbishment of the prime minister’s Downing Street residence.

The Electoral Commission has been looking into whether any funds used to pay for renovating the apartment should have been declared under the law on political donations, over claims Johnson received a loan from his Conservative Party for the work.

The commission said it was “now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offense or offenses may have occurred,” and a formal investigation would take place.

“The investigation will determine whether any transactions relating to the works at [the apartment] fall within the regime regulated by the Commission and whether such funding was reported as required,” the commission said in a statement.

The Electoral Commission has the power to impose fines for breaches of spending rules, and can refer cases to the police.

Last week, Johnson’s former top aide, Dominic Cummings, claimed that the prime minister planned to get Conservative Party donors to pay for the refurbishment of the taxpayer-funded apartment where Johnson lives with fiancee Carrie Symonds and their baby son, Wilfred.

Cummings, who left his job late last year, said he had told Johnson the plan was “unethical, foolish, possibly illegal.” Johnson said Wednesday in the House of Commons, “I have paid for Downing Street refurbishment personally” But he did not say when asked whether he had been lent the money for the work, reported to have cost around $83,000.

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