The Liberal Democrats must have thought Christmas had come early when the Electoral Commission surprisingly ruled that they could keep the £2.4m of stolen money they received from convicted fraudster Michael Brown in the run up to the 2005 General Election. Many observers had pointed out that the money was stolen and that Brown had only set up a front company in the UK precisely in order to be able to boost his status by making such donations. His company “5th Avenue Partners” has never traded or filed accounts with Companies House.
Last month the Electoral Commission ruled that the company had traded and was therefore a “permissible donor”. That ruling may now be challenged in the High Court by aggrieved victims of Brown’s fraud who have described the Electoral Commission’s findings as a “whitewash” and a “disgrace”. The Electoral Commission will find its reasoning subject to detailed legal scrutiny and the Lib Dems will face another uncomfortable Christmas in the knowledge that repayment would very likely bankrupt the party.
Whatever the final legal outcome, ordinary Lib Dem members and candidates must surely feel some sympathy for the victims of Michael Brown, in the knowledge that their party was funded to such an extent by stolen money.