Lobbying sting costs UK lawmaker security watchdog role

AP News
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Posted: Feb 24, 2015 9:06 AM
Lobbying sting costs UK lawmaker security watchdog role

LONDON (AP) — Conservative Party lawmaker Malcolm Rifkind quit Tuesday as head of the committee overseeing Britain's intelligence services and announced his retirement from Parliament, after being caught in a hidden-camera sting appearing to discuss swapping political influence for money.

Rifkind, a former foreign minister and one of his party's most senior lawmakers, called the allegations against him "contemptible." But said he didn't want the vital work of the Intelligence and Security Committee to be "distracted or affected by controversy as to my personal position."

He also said he wouldn't seek re-election as a lawmaker in May's national election.

Rifkind was caught in a sting along with former Labour Party Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. Straw was already planning to leave Parliament in May.

The men were secretly filmed by reporters posing as representatives of a fictional Hong Kong-based communications agency allegedly seeking top U.K. politicians to join the firm's advisory board.

Rifkind was recorded as saying he could arrange "useful access" to ambassadors, while Straw spoke of using "charm and menace" to change politicians' minds.

Both deny wrongdoing and say they acted within rules that allow legislators to have second incomes, as long as they declare them.

The undercover reporting by Channel 4's "Dispatches" television program and the Daily Telegraph newspaper reopened a debate about political lobbying and influence-peddling in Parliament.

The return of corruption allegations is unwelcome for British politicians during a close-fought election campaign. The reputation of Parliament has been tarnished by previous cash-for-access scandals and by revelations several years ago that lawmakers had claimed taxpayer-funded expenses for second homes and items including porn movies, horse manure and an ornamental duck house.