Blair, Jowell Accused of Misleading MPs on U.S. Casino Talks

8 August 2005

The Tories have accused British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell of misleading MP's over secret talks held with American casino companies.

In November 2004, Jowell denied accusations that that her Department had held private meetings with U.S. investors and casino companies at which Department officials asked what changes the American casino companies would favor in the EU draft directive on money laundering. She stated that the money laundering directive was the responsibility of the Treasury, not the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). Blair also insisted that such claims were "ridiculous."

But official documents released today under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that the DCMS had indeed been in discussion with the American companies about the money laundering regulations, and may have even been lobbying the Treasury to change them. The regulations are a concern of the American companies because they could potentially require every person who enters a casino to produce proof of identity, which is something the casino operators oppose.

One of the released documents, a briefing note written lat May by senior Culture Department official Richard Beston to Lord McIntosh, outlined preparations for a meeting with MGM representative Lloyd Nathan and explained his concerns about the identity rules. The note said, "We have asked the Treasury to consider revising the third money-laundering draft directive to exempt casino members from showing ID on entry to when they enter the actual gaming floor."

A DCMS spokesperson has refuted allegations that Jowell and Blair mislead MP's by stating that "Part of this was discussing with [the casino companies] the draft directive and passing on their views and our views to the Treasury, who are the ultimate decision-makers. Tessa Jowell and Tony Blair never denied that we had talked to the industry. What they denied was that we offered special favors. If you analyze the documents we have released under freedom of information legislation, they confirm that. There is no question of us ever putting the effectiveness of money-laundering directives behind the interests of casino operators, wherever they are from."

The Tories, however, claim that there are clear discrepancies between the information provided in the released documents and what ministers told Parliament.