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Arms Dealer Wanted In India Major Funder Of UK Liberal Democrats

He hasn't been seen in India since 2006, but is well-known in the circles of power as an influential arms dealer. Now, Sudhir Choudhrie — an accused in several cases filed by the CBI alleging
PTI May 06, 2010 10:16 IST
PTI
He hasn't been seen in India since 2006, but is well-known in the circles of power as an influential arms dealer.

Now, Sudhir Choudhrie — an accused in several cases filed by the CBI alleging manipulation and bribery in defence purchases — could also become a powerful behind-the-scenes player in Britain, where he and his family have emerged amongst the biggest donors to the Liberal Democrats (usually referred to as the Lib Dems), reports The Times of India.

Significantly, Britain goes to polls today with the Lib Dems tipped to register their best performance ever, which could catapult them to the role of kingmakers in the event of a hung Parliament.

As of this week, the Choudhrie family's funding to the Lib Dems has risen to around £700,000 since 2004, according to figures accessed by TOI from the UK's Electoral Commission website. Most donations have been made by Alpha Healthcare, one of their British companies, though small sums have also been contributed by other group firms and family members in their individual capacities.

While Labour and the Conservatives, the two main parties, raise millions in donations, Lib Dems are usually cash-strapped. The money from the Choudhries must have been welcome for the party as it embarked on a remarkably successful campaign, which stunned political observers.

Of the Choudhrie family's many donations to Lib Dems, the latest of £95,000 by Alpha was given just hours after the party's charismatic leader Nick Clegg trounced Labour leader and British PM Gordon Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron in Britain's first televised political debate. Alpha's donation is the single largest sum given to the Lib Dems since the electoral exercise commenced.

The Choudhries account for almost half the money raised by Lib Dems during this period. In comparison, the Conservatives raised £4.3 million and Labour £3.6 million.

According to British Electoral Commission, the Choudhries have been donating to Lib Dems for several years. Their donations escalated after 2006, when Choudhrie left India and settled in the UK after he was accused by the CBI for manipulation and bribery.

Over the years, the Choudhries have set up several firms in hospitality, aviation and real estate in the UK, using funds sourced mostly from investment firms registered in tax havens. In India too, the family has several companies, to which investments have come from firms in tax havens.