UK Conservatives suspend lawmaker as sleaze allegations swirl over possible misuse of party funds

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LONDON (AP) — Britain’s governing Conservative Party said Thursday it has suspended a lawmaker who is alleged to have used campaign funds for personal medical expenses and to pay off someone who was threatening him.

The Times of London reported Mark Menzies took thousands of pounds (dollars) given to the party by donors for medical costs and other personal expenses.

It said that in December he called a 78-year-old aide at 3 a.m. asking for help because he had been locked in an apartment by “bad people” who were demanding money for his release. A sum of 6,500 pounds ($8,100) was paid personally by Menzies’ office manager, who was reimbursed from donors’ cash, the newspaper said.

Menzies, who has represented the seat of Fylde in northwest England since 2010, told the Times: “I strongly dispute the allegations put to me. I have fully complied with all the rules for declarations. As there is an investigation ongoing I will not be commenting further.”

He did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.

The Conservative whips' office said Menzies had agreed to be suspended from the Conservative caucus in Parliament, "pending the outcome of an investigation.” The suspension means he will remain in Parliament as an independent lawmaker.

He was also suspended from an unpaid role as Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s trade envoy to Colombia, Peru, Chile and Argentina.

Menzies has faced misconduct claims before. In 2014 he quit as a ministerial aide after allegations about his behavior made by a Brazilian male escort. Three years later, the Times said, he was “interviewed by police over bizarre accusations that he had deliberately got an acquaintance’s dog drunk.” It said Menzies strongly denied giving alcohol to a dog.

The case is the latest allegation of sleaze to hit the Conservatives, who have lost several lawmakers to ethics scandals in the past two years – including former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

They include a lawmaker caught looking at porn in the House of Commons, another who reportedly offered to lobby on behalf of gambling firms and a legislator alleged to have drunkenly groped strangers at a London private members’ club.

Last week Conservative lawmaker William Wragg suspended himself from the party's parliamentary caucus after acknowledging he’d been the victim of a sexting scam that led to him passing colleagues’ contact details to an unknown individual who held “compromising” material on him.

The Conservatives have been in power since 2010, but opinion polls put them well behind the opposition Labour Party, with an election due later this year.

The report is the latest sign of the muckraking and personal mudslinging expected in the election. Conservatives accuse Labour Deputy Leader Angela Rayner of dodging tax on a house sale years ago by falsely claiming that it was her primary residence. Police say they are investigating. Rayner denies wrongdoing and has not been suspended by her party.