- The Washington Times - Friday, February 5, 2010

LONDON | An inquiry into a scandal that tarnished British politics found Thursday more than half of the House of Commons made excessive or bogus expense claims worth more than $1 million.

In a report that party leaders hope will draw a line under the furor ahead of a national election, auditor Thomas Legg said 392 of 752 current and former legislators he investigated - including Prime Minister Gordon Brown - must repay a total of $1.7 million.

Revelations that legislators submitted claims for items including porn movies, horse manure and an ornamental duck house outraged the British public, who will be asked to vote in an election which must be held by June.

Britain’s Crown Prosecution Service - which authorizes criminal prosecutions - said it would announce Friday whether six lawmakers under investigation will face charges over their claims.

Mr. Legg’s inquiry, which cost about $1.8 million, found that lawmakers had overcharged the public a total of $1.12 million for mortgage payments and $165,600 too much for cleaning costs.

The saga has “been traumatic and painful, public confidence has been damaged, and the scars will no doubt take time to heal,” Mr. Legg said.

Mr. Brown’s spokesman Simon Lewis said the British leader hopes new, tighter rules can help restore public confidence. “He believes that what has happened over the last 18 months has scarred our democracy,” Mr. Lewis said.

Former Democratic Unionist lawmaker Iris Robinson, who quit her legislative posts in the Northern Ireland Assembly in Belfast and the House of Commons in London last month after she admitted having an affair with a 19-year-old man, was ordered to return almost $2,600 after overcharging for a luxury bed.

Amid the scandal, Mr. Brown saw nine ministers quit and suffered heavy losses in local and European elections as voters deserted mainstream parties. Two House of Commons legislators have been ousted and about 150 others won’t contest the next national election as a result.

Details were disclosed only after a five-year freedom of information campaign and repeated attempts by Parliament to use British courts to block their release. However, before Parliament published a set of partially censored documents, unexpurgated details were leaked to a newspaper.

Mr. Brown was ordered to repay $20,500, mostly in excessive claims for a maid. Opposition Conservative Party chief David Cameron repaid almost $1,600 used for mortgage interest charges and to remove wisteria from a chimney.

While House of Commons lawmakers claim an average of $223,000 a year in expense payments, the U.S. Congress allots each House and Senate office between $1.4 million and $1.9 million to cover expenses.


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