With Ukip riding as high as 20 per cent in the polls, and on course to finish first or second in next month's European elections, Nigel Farage is finally coming under the kind of scrutiny he has avoided for so long. Today's Times reveals that he is potentially facing a European investigation over the £15,500 he receives annually in MEP allowances to fund the Bognor Regis property where he lives rent-free. A former office manager told the paper that upkeep of the converted grain store amounts to no more than £3,000 a year, leaving around £12,000 apparently unaccounted for.
A complaint has been filed to the EU anti-fraud office OLAF by a former Ukip official who wishes to remain anonymous due to "physical threats" allegedly made by other party officials against members who raised questions about Ukip finances. One of the party's former MEPs, Mike Nattrass, remarks: "You shove it down your trousers if you want to. The EU will never ask them to justify it. That’s the trouble with it. It goes into your bank account whether you want it or not."
Despite receiving a a general expenditure allowance of around £3,800 a month to rent and run an office, MEPs are not required to file receipts. But under EU guidelines, as the Times notes, spending is limited to "rent, water, electricity, heating, insurance and business rates. Stationery, office equipment, staff and communications come under separate spending categories."
Farage once boasted during a debate on Europe at the Foreign Press Association in 2009 of receiving nearly £2m in allowances since his election in 1999. Asked by then Labour MP Denis MacShane (who was later forced to resign his seat and jailed over fradulent receipts) how much he had received, he said: "It is a vast sum. I don't know what the total amount is but - oh lor - it must be pushing £2 million."
In response to the Times report, Farage said: "I don't pay rent on the office but I obviously pay for everything else. Whether it's the burglar alarm or electricity. About £1,000 a month is roughly what it is. Exceptionally I put more money in as and when it's needed." Ukip has also issued a lengthy rebuttal to what it describes as "smears" from "the newspaper known as the mouthpiece of the political establishment". Here's the statement in full:
Nigel Farage is confident that he has abided by European parliamentary rules at all times when spending allowances.
The Times has raised a number of 'fishing type' allegations, all of which lack substance as to their formulation and provide no substantive questions needing to be answered. In fact many of your questions are probably just as applicable to any of the other political parties contesting the forthcoming European Elections with figures and statements duly amended to suit.
The Lyminster office is not the sole address that incurs expenditure in the pursuance of Mr Farage’s job as an MEP, though it is the most important one. It is quite wrong to claim that he did not declare the rental arrangement with J. Longhurst LTD. until 2013. It has been in the register of members’ interests since 2003.
Jasna Badzak is a convicted fraudster serving a suspended sentence, whose allegations are unfounded and vexatious. She has never been a press secretary or confidant of Mr Farage’s. To allege that he has transferred EU funds to an offshore account is entirely untrue. Your use of her indicates that you are writing an article with a defined end by inventing a road to achieve that end.
Mr Martin Haslam never had any responsibility for EU money. He was, for a brief period responsible for the UKIP South East accounts.
In relation to UK based staff paid from EU funds, they are approved constituency managers in line with advice given to us by the members’ services in Strasbourg.
You are expected to quote this statement in full in any article you choose to publish.
If Farage, who has made hay from the Maria Miller scandal, is "confident that he has abided by European parliamentary rules at all times", there is an easy way to resolve the dispute: publish his accounts in full. Rather than throwing around threats to sue the Times (on what grounds it is unclear) and deriding "a politically motivated campaign by the establishment", he should remember that sunlight is the best disinfectant.