British PM Rishi Sunak's party hit with election date betting allegations

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak

London | British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's Conservative Party is facing a series of allegations on Thursday involving his bodyguard and aides over betting around the general election date, which is scheduled for July 4.

The Metropolitan Police initially suspended an officer from Sunak’s personal security detail and later arrested the individual on suspicion of misconduct in public office.

Soon after, it emerged that the UK's Gambling Commission was investigating several individuals linked to the governing Tories over allegedly betting on the timing of the election. While betting is legal in the UK, any bets placed with the advantage of insider information could fall within the purview of illegality.

"The matter was immediately referred to officers in the Met's Directorate of Professional Standards, who opened an investigation, and the officer was also removed from operational duties,” the Met Police was quoted by the BBC as saying.

"The officer was subsequently arrested on Monday 17 June on suspicion of misconduct in public office. He was taken into custody and bailed pending further enquiries," the Met Police said.

Last week, the ‘Guardian’ newspaper reported that Sunak’s close parliamentary aide, Craig Williams, placed a GBP 100 bet with Ladbrokes at a five to one odds on a July election just three days before the British Indian leader had surprised the country with a summer election, as opposed to a widely expected autumn date later in the year. Williams, 39, is the Tory candidate for Montgomeryshire and Glyndwr in Wales. In a statement, he said his "flutter" on the election had prompted some "routine inquiries" and that he would "fully cooperate with these".

"I don't want it to be a distraction from the campaign. I should have thought through how it looks," he said.

It has since emerged that a second Conservative candidate, who is married to the party's Director of Campaigns – who would be expected to have knowledge of election matters, is also facing an investigation over allegedly betting on the timing of the general election. While Laura Saunders, the Tory candidate for Bristol North West, is reportedly among those being looked into by the Gambling Commission, her husband Tony Lee is said to have taken “a leave of absence" from his role.

"The Gambling Commission regulates gambling in the interests of consumers and the wider public,” a commission spokesperson said.

"Currently, the commission is investigating the possibility of offences concerning the date of the election. This is an ongoing investigation, and the commission cannot provide any further details at this time. We are not confirming or denying the identity of any individuals involved in this investigation," the spokesperson said.

Under Section 42 of the UK's Gambling Act 2005, it is an offence to cheat at gambling or to do anything that allows someone else to cheat. The Conservative Party has said that the Gambling Commission being an independent regulatory body, it would not be “proper to comment further, until any process is concluded”.

However, the Opposition Labour Party has mounted pressure on Sunak, with leader Keir Starmer calling for Saunders to be suspended and said it is "very telling" that action had not been taken.

"If it was one of my candidates, they'd be gone and their feet would not have touched the floor," he said.

Sunak was asked about the first allegation involving Craig Williams on the sidelines of the G7 Summit in Italy last week, when he described it as “very disappointing news” but added that it "wouldn't be appropriate for me to comment” while the Gambling Commission’s inquiries are ongoing.

It comes as the embattled Tories continue to be hammered in the pre-election surveys, with almost all analyses forecasting heavy losses for the governing party.

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