This is the blog of British investigative journalist Jason Lewis.
It features articles from my time as Investigations Editor of the Sunday Telegraph and Whitehall and Security Editor of the Mail on Sunday.
I specialise in writing on intelligence and security matters, human and civil rights and the activities of the British State.
Monday, 23 April 2012
Fraudster Michael Brown faces questions about his £2.4 million donation to the Lib Dems
The fraudster who gave the Liberal Democrats £2.4 million before fleeing the country is to be questioned when he returns to Britain to help determine if the party will be forced to pay back the cash.
Michael Brown will be extradited to Britain from Spain as early as next week to begin serving a seven-year prison sentence imposed for a £36 million fraud while he was on the run and living under a false name in the Dominican Republic.
The con man, who was tracked down in the Caribbean by the Sunday Telegraph three and a half years after he absconded, volunteered to be flown to Spain last week rather than remain in jail on the island. He was arrested there earlier this year over another allegedly fraudulent scheme.
Once in a British cell the Parliamentary Ombudsman is expected to ask for his co-operation as it investigates the Electoral Commission's decision to declare that his political donation was made and accepted legally – even though the business through which he funded the Lib Dems was engaged in fraud.
The Electoral Commission said that the Lib Dems had taken the money in good faith from Brown's firm First Avenue Partners, even though it was used as a vehicle to defraud clients, including former Manchester United chairman Malcolm Edwards, who lost £6 million.
But the Parliamentary Ombudsman is examining whether the Electoral Commission decision represented "maladministration" and whether it should be forced to reopen the investigation, which could lead to the Lib Dems being forced to pay the money back.
The investigation centres on "the way it [the Commission] considered, decided and reported the issue of (the) donation ... in particular that it reached a perverse decision which the facts and law were incapable of supporting".
The Electoral Commission is also accused of contravening its "statutory function to exercise its discretion reasonably in respect of donations to a political party".
It is thought that Brown will be asked to explain his motivation for giving the cash and whether his UK firm was trading legitimately.
Another key question will be whether Brown was actually giving the money to the Party personally, which would have been banned as he was living abroad and was not registered to vote in the UK.
It was claimed that because Mr Brown's firm rented offices in Britain and employed a full time member of staff that any donation was allowed.
Brown, who flew out of the Dominican Republic last weekend, was given the choice of being expelled to either Britain or Spain, as he had lived in both countries.
He chose Spain and arrived in Madrid last Sunday. He was immediately arrested on a European Arrest Warrant issued in the UK seeking his extradition.
On Monday he appeared at a closed-door hearing at the National Court in Madrid, which handles all extradition cases in Spain.
The judge Santiago Pedraz asked whether he was prepared to be sent to Britain to serve an unfinished prison term or wanted to fight extradition. Brown said he would accept extradition.
A court spokesman said: "It is now a matter for the National Police to arrange his flight to the United Kingdom."
A senior officer at National Police headquarters in Madrid said: "There is some paperwork to be done and sent to Interpol. But that should not take long. I would expect this man to be escorted on a flight to the United Kingdom during the course of the week."
In the meantime Brown is being held at a top security prison just outside Madrid from where he will be driven to the capital's Barajas international airport.
Brown was tracked down to the Dominican Republic last year by a Sunday Telegraph investigation which revealed that he had been living under the name Darren Nally, a known criminal.
This newspaper disclosed how his escape from Britain had been arrange by a convicted drug smuggler with links to organised crime.
Brown was finally arrested in January after the Dominican Republic police, using our evidence, linked the name on his false passport to his real identity and an Interpol record which showed he was wanted in the UK.
He was discovered living at a £1.6 million over looking the Caribbean Sea on a luxury golf resort near Punta Cana. His wife was staying that the villa at the time of his arrest.
He had previously been tracked down to another luxury villa elsewhere on the island where he had been living with a much younger woman who was described as his "concubina" in court records but fled.
While in the Caribbean he attempted to put together a series of new frauds, including one bogus deal involved shares in a non-existent Russian oil refinery which he said involved Boris Berezovsky, the Russian billionaire businessman. Berezovsky knew nothing about it and the investors lost their cash.