The Conservative party says it will hand over documents requested by the UK election watchdog today, after it was threatened with being taken to court over alleged election fraud.
The Electoral Commission said it had applied to the high court to force the Tories to hand over documents and information it had twice requested since launching an investigation in February.
The commission said the Tories had provided "limited material" in response to the first statutory notice, and none in response to the second, despite the deadline to comply being extended in both cases.
However, the Tories said it was always their intention to provide the documents today.
A Conservative party spokesperson told BuzzFeed News: “We advised the Electoral Commission on 29 April that we would comply with their notices by 1pm today – and we will do so.
"There was no need for them to make this application to the high court."
“If parties under investigation do not comply with our requirements for the disclosure of relevant material in reasonable time and after sufficient opportunity to do so, the commission can seek recourse through the courts," said Bob Posner, director of party and election finance and legal counsel at the Electoral Commission.
"We are today asking the court to require the party to fully disclose the documents and information we regard as necessary to effectively progress our investigation into the party’s campaign spending returns.”
Nine police forces have opened investigations into allegations – first reported by Channel 4 News in January – of Tory candidates exceeding spending limits during campaigns at the last general election and at by-elections in Newark, Clacton, and Rochester and Strood.
The claims revolve around a failure to properly register the accommodation costs of Tory activists who travelled around marginal seats in the party's "battlebus".
The police investigations will determine whether the associated expenses should have been filed locally by candidates rather than nationally. The maximum criminal penalty relating to candidate spending offences or false declarations is a year in prison, or an unlimited fine. Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission can issue a fine of up to £20,000.
At yesterday's Prime Minister's Questions, David Cameron was asked by Angus Robertson, the SNP leader in Westminster, to explain the "very serious" allegations.
Robertson also raised the issue of Alison Hernandez, who was recently elected as police and crime commissioner for Devon and Cornwall despite now being under investigation as she was the agent of Conservative candidate Kevin Foster in Torbay, one of the constituencies police are looking at.
“The whole point in this country is the Electoral Commission is independent, and when it comes to operational decisions by a police force, they are independent too. That’s the hallmark of an uncorrupt country," Cameron replied, in reference to an anti-corruption summit he is hosting in London this week.
The Electoral Commission said it was not aware of the requested documents and information being supplied when contacted by BuzzFeed News shortly after 1pm.
The nine police forces that have launched investigations are Cheshire police, Derbyshire police, Devon and Cornwall police, Gloucestershire police, Greater Manchester police, Northamptonshire police, Staffordshire police, Warwickshire police, and West Yorkshire police.
An Electoral Commission spokesperson told BuzzFeed News that some documents and information had been supplied by the Tories by Thursday afternoon.
"We are reviewing the information to determine whether it is in accordance with our request," the commission said.
Matthew Champion is a deputy world news editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
Contact Matthew Champion at email@example.com.
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