Ashcroft faces new tax avoidance claims

Lord Ashcroft is a major donor to the Conservatives
Lord Ashcroft is a major donor to the Conservatives

By staff

Michael Ashcroft faced a new round of potentially damaging allegations today after reports he avoided tax on polling projects for the Conservatives.

The non-dom Tory deputy chairman prompted a week-long crisis in the party on Monday when he revealed his tax status, after ten years of secrecy.

David Cameron and William Hague both found themselves facing questions about their honesty and competence yesterday after it emerged Mr Hague knew about Lord Ashcroft's tax status months before his party leader and did not think to tell him.

Today's Guardian claims the peer ordered a huge polling exercise in marginal constituencies in 2005 and paid the bills using one of his Belizean companies, thereby avoiding VAT.

The polls, commissioned from YouGov and Populus, are thought to have cost £250,000.

The allegations come from sources familiar with the transactions, the Guardian reported.

"This is quite serious," Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable told the newspaper.

"We are now not talking just about Ashcroft's non-dom status, but about systematic tax avoidance in funding Conservative party activities such as polling.

"How far were the Conservatives aware that Ashcroft did not pay VAT, as would have been incurred by any normal polling activity?"

There were calls for Lord Ashcroft to quit yesterday after officials from the Lib Dems and Labour launched a devastating attack on the Conservatives for their relationship with the peer.

But an Electoral Commission report cleared donations made through his company, Bearwood Corporate Services, as legitimate, allowing the Tories some respite from the row.


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