Boris Johnson investigated for overspending on Downing Street remodeling
Photo: AP

The body that oversees UK political finance reported that it launched a formal investigation into the costly remodelling of the Prime Minister’s Downing Street apartment. Johnson also had to come out to deny a controversial statement attributed to him: “No more fucking confinements, let the bodies pile up by the thousands.”

When he was just getting to savour the success of vaccination and deconfinement measures in England, the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, finds himself in the middle of a political storm a week before local elections are held in which the leadership of the Conservatives will be put to the test.

The body that oversees the UK’s political finances, the Election Commission, reported that it launched a formal investigation into the costly remodelling of Johnson’s Downing Street apartment and warned that there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect a crime has been committed.

The Electoral Commission has the power to impose fines for violations of spending regulations and can refer cases to the police. The agency has been reviewing whether the funds used for the works should have been declared under the political donations law, while Johnson claims he received a loan from his Conservative Party for the work.

The announcement by the political spending watchdog has increased pressure on Johnson to explain funding for work at the department at 11 Downing Street, where he lives with his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds. If the commission finds that the Conservative Party failed to declare a donation from the Conservative Lord Brownlow, it has the power to fine the party up to £ 20,000 (US $ 27,800).

If the agency believes the donation was not declared intentionally, it will refer its finding to the police, who could launch a criminal investigation. The commission is expected to investigate Johnson as well because he was the recipient of the donation. Under electoral law, the premier was responsible for declaring any money he received from the party in the membership interest register, even if the donation was eventually returned.

Through a statement, the commission hinted that it was examining whether more than one crime had been committed. “We have been in contact with the Conservative Party since the end of March and we have carried out an evaluation of the information they have provided us,” he said. “We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that a crime or crimes may have occurred. Therefore, we will continue this work as a formal investigation to establish if this is the case”.

The controversy erupted last week when the prime minister’s former senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, who resigned last November, accused Johnson of financing the renovation of his official apartment with private donations. Cummings, known for being the political strategist for the Brexit campaign, revealed that he told Johnson that the plan was “unethical, stupid and possibly illegal.”

A spokesman for the Executive said on Tuesday that, beyond the government budget allocated to maintenance, the works – for up to 200,000 pounds sterling (US $ 278,000) according to the local press – were paid by Johnson.

As expected, Johnson was questioned on this issue today in the House of Commons question and answer session: “I have personally paid for the Downing Street remodel. However, he did not respond when asked if he had been loaned the money for the work.

Johnson insisted that he had “fully complied with” the code of conduct. “Any other statement that you have to make, if any, will be with the advice of Lord Geidt,” he added in reference to the former private secretary of Queen Elizabeth II, who is the ministerial standards advisor recently appointed by the premier.

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