New allegations against Lord Ashcroft

Newspaper claims that he avoided paying VAT on opinion polls ordered for the Tory party.

Lord Ashcroft has been accused of avoiding VAT on opinion polls he commissioned for the Conservatives.

In 2005, Ashcroft privately commissioned what he called the biggest political polling exercise ever conducted in Britain, to inform the Tories as they targeted marginal seats. The findings of the poll were published in a book Smell the Coffee: a Wake-up Call for the Conservative Party, and heavily influenced subsquent policy.

The polls were carried out by YouGov and Populus, and are believed to have cost in the region of £250,000.

Last night, the Guardian said that sources said that the bills were paid by a company owned by Lord Ashcroft in Belize, meaning that he did not pay VAT. The newspaper estimated that the total VAT bill could have totaled more than £40,000.

Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat treasury spokesman, told the Guardian: "This is quite serious. We are now not talking just about Ashcroft's non-dom status, but about systematic tax avoidance in funding Conservative party activities such as polling. How far were the Conservatives aware that Ashcroft did not pay VAT, as would have been incurred by any normal polling activity?"

At the time, Ashcroft was resident in Britain and said that he paid for the polling personally. A Conservative Party spokesman said that "We do not recognise this as Conservative party polling."

The Electoral Commission said yesterday that Ashcroft's donations to the Tory party were legal, but criticised party members for being unhelpful to the inquiry.