Kennedy stalls over return of £2.4m from 'wanted man'

CHARLES Kennedy has refused to immediately hand back a controversial donation to the Liberal Democrats made by a Scots millionaire who is wanted in Florida for alleged fraud.

The Liberal Democrat leader pointed to an inquiry this month by the Electoral Commission into the 2.4 million donation from Michael Brown, which had decided it was permissible.

However, that investigation had focused on whether Fifth Avenue Partners UK, the firm through which Switzerland-based Mr Brown had given the donation, was operating in the UK, as required under electoral law. The donations watchdog yesterday said it would give guidance to parties on how to decide if a firm was trading in the UK.

Yesterday, allegations emerged in the Times newspaper that Mr Brown was still wanted in Florida for allegedly bouncing cheques.

His mother, who lives in Pencaitland, East Lothian, told The Scotsman she had "no comment" on the allegations.

However, Mr Brown told the Times he was "truly shocked" that he was known as an absconder in Florida, where he skipped probation seven years ago.

Mr Brown also hinted that he could ask for the Liberal Democrats to give him his money back, to stop "any negative commentary which is hurting the party". This would wipe out two-thirds of its income for the first quarter of this year.

But yesterday's controversy provided fresh embarrassment for Mr Kennedy. Last night several MPs were muttering that the incident had been badly handled, with some privately demanding the cash be paid back.

Confusion ensued when Mr Kennedy pledged "an internal review" of the donation, while a party spokesman said this was not in any way an "inquiry".

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