Labour has written to the Conservatives to demand they do not accept any more donations from Lycamobile until they have carried out a probe into the company, following a BuzzFeed News investigation that raised serious questions about the telecoms giant's suspicious business practices.
Jon Ashworth, a member of Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet, has sent a letter to Conservative chair Lord Feldman requesting clarification on whether the party was aware of "unorthodox" activities by the Lycamobile group, which has donated £1.3 million to the Tories.
Lyca employees were filmed by BuzzFeed News dropping rucksacks stuffed with hundreds of thousands of pounds twice a day at post offices across London. Lord MacDonald, the former director of public prosecutions, said the activity was "deeply suspicious" and called for an urgent investigation by the authorities.
BuzzFeed News also revealed that Lycamobile's offshore empire is embroiled in a worldwide corruption probe over a "shady transaction" with the family of Mahinda Rajapaksa, the former Sri Lankan despot accused of war crimes and corruption. Labour has previously warned the Conservatives about Lycamobile's links to the Rajapaksa regime.
The opposition party has now has asked Feldman to confirm that Lycamobile is "the sort of organisation you are happy to take donations from" and has demanded the Tories stop taking money from the company until they have further assurances about the business.
Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio, concluded by asking the party to "confirm what conversations have taken place between the party and Lycamobile to ensure that the business practices revealed by Buzzfeed News are legitimate and provide reassurances that no further donations will be accepted from the company until the necessary investigations are completed".
Labour's letter comes after BuzzFeed News revealed last night that Lyca was reported to the police last year after its biggest corporate rival hired private investigators to tail its bagmen as they made their Post Office deposits. A file containing "prima facie evidence of money laundering" was passed to the National Crime Agency (NCA) by Lebara – Lyca's main competitor in the market for prepaid calling cards and SIMs – but the police refused to say what action, if any, had been taken as a result.
Read the full letter to Lord Feldman here:
7 October 2015
Dear Lord Feldman,
I was concerned this week to read about the unorthodox business practices of Lycamobile – a major donor to the Conservative Party – and am writing to seek assurances from you that this matter is being treated with the seriousness it deserves.
As you will no doubt be aware, a five-month investigation by Buzzfeed News revealed that the company has used an unmarked people carrier to deposit bags of money totalling up to £1 million each week. Lord MacDonald QC, the former Director for Public Prosecutions, has said that the behaviour of the company is "not the way a normal business deposits its cash" and that it is "deeply suspicious" and "demands serious investigation".
I agree with Lord MacDonald and note that Buzzfeed has also reported that Lycamobile has donated more than £1.3 million to the Conservative Party since David Cameron became Prime Minister, including over £500,000 this year alone.
I further note that my colleague Tom Blenkinsop MP has previously raised concerns with the Prime Minister about the company's close links with the former Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his regime.
It is clear that serious questions need to be answered on this issue. The Prime Minister himself once said that sunlight was the best disinfectant. With that in mind, please could you explain what checks have been carried in relation to Lycamobile and confirm that you are satisfied that this company is the sort of organisation you are happy to take donations from.
Please could you also confirm what conversations have taken place between the party and Lycamobile to ensure that the business practices revealed by Buzzfeed News are legitimate and provide reassurances that no further donations will be accepted from the company until the necessary investigations are completed.
I look forward to your response.
Jonathan Ashworth MP
Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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