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Former UK ministers suspended in 'cash for access' scandal

Three former Cabinet ministers have been suspended from Britain's ruling Labour Party over allegations that they tried to trade access to government officials for cash.

LONDON // Three former Cabinet ministers have been suspended from Britain's ruling Labour Party over allegations that they tried to trade access to government officials for cash, as the country's Parliament faces a new set of ethics scandals. The former defence secretary, Geoff Hoon, the former transport secretary, Stephen Byers, and the former health secretary, Patricia Hewitt, have all been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party, the party said in a statement late last night, only hours after a documentary caught them apparently boasting of their influence to a fictional US lobbying firm.

Mr Byers was filmed by an undercover television documentary crew apparently offering to use his contacts and access on behalf of private clients for £5,000 (Dh27,600) a day. In the secretly-filmed footage - broadcast on Channel 4's Dispatches programme - he describes himself as a "cab for hire," and boasts that he had been able to alter new laws on behalf of major companies. Mr Byers later retracted his claims. Mr Hoon, who served as Britain's defence secretary at the time of the invasion of Iraq, is seen saying that he looks forward to "translating my knowledge and contacts about sort of (the) international scene into something that, bluntly, makes money." Both he and Mrs Hewitt were filmed suggesting they would charge £3,000 a day for their services. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

A fourth Labour Party politician, Margaret Moran, who also appeared on the programme, was suspended as well. The revelations come at a particularly embarrassing time for the government, which is only weeks away from its toughest election since Labour came to power in 1997. They also have echoes of Britain's hugely damaging expenses scandal, which laid bare the extent to which MPs from all parties were cashing in on their status as parliamentarians and dented Labour's standing in the polls.

* AP

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