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21 September, 2006 - 15:54 By Staff Reporter

Bio boss regrets bailing Labour out with loan

Life Sciences entrepreneur and father of Cambridge biotech, Professor Sir Christopher Evans – arrested and released without charge in connection with a police inquiry into loans to the Labour Party – says he would never have lent the money had he known he would be made to suffer such embarrassment.Sir Christopher, head of Merlin Biosciences, had reminded Labour this summer that he wanted the money back, sooner rather than later.

“I’ve told Tony Blair that this was a commercial loan and I want the money back in line with the deal we made,” he told Business Weekly when the cash-for-honours storm first broke.

Sir Christopher said today that he was ‘extremely shocked and dismayed’ following his arrest in connection with the inquiry.

He only loaned the money to help get Labour out of the mire with its cashflow crisis for the last General Election campaign, he said. Nor had he ever lent any money to buy a knighthood.

Sir Christopher said: “I voluntarily attended the police interview and have always been happy to provide the police with any information that they have requested.

“There was nothing raised in the interview that caused me or my solicitor any concern or to think that I have done something wrong. I have done nothing wrong and have absolutely nothing to hide.

“I am willingly co-operating with this inquiry and fully respect the job the police officers are doing, although I am disappointed that the technicality of arrest was used in this situation. My solicitors felt it was unnecessary, particularly as I had always indicated my willingness to co-operate fully.

“I am extremely frustrated to be placed in this situation as a result of what I believed to be a straightforward commercial loan to the Labour Party to assist them with their cash flow for the last election campaign.

“I never made a secret of the loan and if I had been asked at any time whether I had made a loan would have confirmed the fact. My record as a long-standing Labour donor and supporter was there for all to see.

“The reason I made the loan was precisely because I was not prepared to make such a substantial donation to the Labour Party. From the outset I made it clear that the money would be a commercial, interest-bearing loan which was to be repaid in full and that remains the case.

“Frankly, if I thought for one moment that I would be placed in this embarrassing and mind-boggling position I would not have made the loan.

“I am proud to have been honoured twice in the past by both Conservative and Labour Governments for my work in the medical biosciences sector. That is the only basis on which I would accept any honour.”

Sir Christopher’s solicitor, Neil Micklethwaite, added that Sir Christopher had not been charged with any offence.

Merlin has been under investigation by the Serious Fraud office for several months for an investment made by one of its funds following accusations by a sacked former executive. Sir Christopher remains confident that Merlin has no case to answer.

Lord Levy, the Prime Minister’s personal fundraiser, was arrested by Scotland Yard in July and re-questioned this week as the “cash for peerages” controversy engulfing Downing Street escalated.

The inquiry was launched after a senior Labour figure told a businessman nominated for a peerage to hide that he had lent the party £250,000.

Labour party treasurer, Jack Dromey revealed that the party had received £14m in disclosed loans in the run-up to last year's general election.

Under the rules laid down by the electoral commission, all gifts of more than £5,000 to political parties must be declared. However, loans made on a commercial basis do not count.

New Labour has a track record of awarding lucrative commercial contracts to companies owned by party donors, notably a smallpox contract handed to Labour donor Paul Drayson – now Lord Drayson, Minister for Defence Procurement, – when he was running PowderJect. Drayson had donated £100,000 to New Labour.

In the wake of 9/11 his company was handed the UK government contract to deliver a smallpox vaccine stockpile in fear of terrorist germ warfare. This was despite its poor track record in delivering commercial vaccines and the decision of the White House to have its own antidote to a possible weaponised smallpox attack delivered by Cambridge company Acambis.

To this day, UK government officials refuse to say whether PowderJect ever delivered the UK‘s stockpile - hiding behind reasons of national security. Our information is that no such stockpile has been tested, let alone delivered.

Sources close to Sir Christopher’s business interests, believe his arrest was no coincidence. Their view is that the cash for peerages inquiry was heading into a cul-de-sac and that Sir Christopher was a convenient ‘patsy’ – as his company was under the shadow of an SFO review – to persuade the public that there was no whitewash from Whitehall and that vigorous inquiries were continuing.

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