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November 5, 2019

Modi’s ally suspended from Commons after drug, sex inquiry

National

November 5, 2019

LONDON: A key ally of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Labour MP Keith Vaz has been suspended from the House of Commons for six months after he was found to have "expressed willingness" to purchase cocaine for two male prostitutes at his flat in Edgware.

The MPs approved the recommendation from the Commons standards body, which released its report a week ago establishing that there was "compelling evidence" that the MP from Leicester East offered to pay for a class A drug and had paid-for sex in August 2016 with two male prostitutes.

The longest serving Indian origin MP rented two boys to visit his flat in Edgware, 10-minute walk from his family home and told them he was a washing machine salesman whose name was “Jim”. The MP was not aware that the boys were fully aware of his true identity and one of them was secretly recording the proceedings on his phone for the Sunday Mirror newspaper. Eight days later, the paper published its expose, including extracts of the home affairs chairman discussing illegal drugs, unprotected sex and money.

Vaz, first elected in 1987, is known as a personal friend and trusted ally of the current Indian prime minister, campaigned for him in Britain for many years. The news of suspension comes as a personal setback to the Indian PM who always counted on Vaz to run campaigns for his BJP party.

A statement issued by his office said Vaz had cooperated at all stages of the inquiry and he had been admitted to hospital on Monday. Vaz is counted as amongst the first British Asian MPs who made it to Parliament over two decades ago.

Labour's Chief Whip Nick Brown told MPs his party accepted the suspension recommendation, saying it is a "sad day for us".

Standards Committee chairwoman Kate Green said she had written to ask the leader of the House in the next Parliament to bring forward the suspension again, if Vaz is re-elected, so that he would have to serve the full six months. In a scathing report, the committee saidthere was "convincing evidence" that Vaz was "evasive or unhelpful" during an investigation into his conduct by Commons standards commissioners Kathryn Hudson and Kathryn Stone.

In her report, the commissioner said, "While his comments regarding this may not amount to a criminal offence, he shows disregard for the law and that, in turn, is disrespectful to the House and fellow members, who collectively are responsible for making those laws."

At the time, Vaz said he had met the men to discuss the redecoration of his flat. But the cross-party committee said Vaz's characterisation of the meeting — in which he reportedly posed as a washing machine salesman — was "not believable and ludicrous".

The MP's claim during the inquiry that his drink may have been spiked and that he had since suffered memory loss about the incident were "not relevant", the report found. According to Vaz, that night with the two rent boys was all a dreadful misunderstanding.

Two weeks ago, Vaz demanded the rescinding of an emergency resolution passed by the opposition Labour Party on Indian occupied Kashmir. Vaz said the motion had created "unnecessary distress and division within the party and the country". The resolution was passed on Sept 26 at the party's annual conference in Brighton and called on the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to call for the entry of international observers into the region and demand the right of self-determination for its people.

In November 2015, Vaz led a campaign to welcome Modi to the UK while thousands of people held rallies against the “mass murderer of Gujarati Muslims”. The activists had accused him of welcoming Modi with open arms while turning a blind eye on the ongoing murders, rapes and intimidation of the Muslims, Christians and oppressed caste Hindus in India under Modi’s Hindu-fascist government. Writing in The Guardian on Nov 12, 2015, Vaz said that Modi’s visit to the UK was “the most important moment for the British-Indian relationship in generations”.

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