We're sorry to keep on about it, but here's Shahid Malik again

The Daily Telegraph today claims that the beleaguered Dewsbury MP "failed to tell the whole truth" when questioned about his expenses claims. Mr. Malik, who stepped down from his position as Justice Minister prior to an investigation last month but was subsequently given a new Cabinet position when cleared of allegations, has once again found himself the subject of unwanted attention as new evidence came to light that he had claimed for two separate sets of office space.

Mr. Malik was last month accused of renting a property in his constituency from a friend and business associate, Tahir Zaman, at a preferential rate. However, an inquiry led by Commissioner for Standards Sir Phillip Mawer stated that the cost of the property - £100 per week - was in keeping with local market rates, but criticised him for not being able to provide proper records of all payments. The MP said that due to Mr. Zaman's devout religious belief he had paid a large percentage of the rent in cash - Islam, like Christianity, has strict rules concerning usury (Muslims seem to be better at remembering that bit of the Koran than Christians are with the Bible); for which reason many Muslims prefer to carry out business with as little to do with banks as possible. Sir Phillip, having examined Mr. Malik's records, stated his belief that these payments had in all probability taken place, and Mr. Malik was cleared. Prime Minister Gordon Brown originally refused to publish even a redacted version of the report which led many people - public and media, including us - to suspect that all is not as it ought to be and that there may be skulduggery afoot. The report was eventually published on Wednesday.

The ground floor of Mr. Malik's constituency home is office space. The MP claims that he pays rent on the top floor - which is living space - separately to the rent for the ground floor, and as a result has not broken expenses rules.

Mr. Malik and his staff inherited office space previously used by his Parliamentary predecessor Ann Taylor in May 2005. This office was found to be too small, and so he took on a larger office in the Daisy Hill area of Dewsbury, announcing the move on his website on the 2nd of April '06. He claimed expenses on the new office but continued to also claim for the original space, until April 2008, which is after the date that he says his last member of staff moved during 2007. This netted him a sum of around £6500.

Mr. Malik's expenses show that he claimed for premises known only as "office2," the location of which he originally attempted to keep private - however, the Telegraph has revealed that it is located in the ground floor of his Dewsbury home, which is designated as his main home and as such should not be paid for out of the public purse unlike his London second home, for which an MP is entitled to claim - Mr. Malik has claimed more than £60,000 for his. Essentially, he was claiming for both his second and main homes, which according to The Green Book - the set of guidelines on MPs' expenses - is against the rules, though he says that he had a separate rental agreement on the upper floor, which is living space, of the Dewsbury property. Mr. Malik maintains that he acted within the rules at all times.

Unfortunately for the MP, this seems to be subject to another mysterious informal agreement and he has refused to say how much rent he pays. Had it not have been for the previous controversy and Mr. Malik's astronomically high expenses, including the fact that he is known to have regularly submitted the maximum allowable £400 a month claim for food despite his ministerial salary which is higher than the standard MP's salary of £64,766 (as of April this year), we might even have given him the benefit of the doubt and waited to see if closer investigation showed up anything untoward. But, as they say, shit sticks. Mr. Malik has been the inspiration of so many disparaging column inches just recently that he's been starting to look distinctly shady.

Today, it has been revealed that he did not inform Sir Phillip that he was making a claim to cover the cost of "office2," failing even to mention its existence. Sir Phillip will now face calls from both opposition MPs and the public to reopen his investigation - this could not come at a worse time, since it looks likely Mr. Malik will also have to answer questions from Commissioner for Standards John Lyon on the matter of his continued claims for the original office after moving from it. He is also to be quizzed regarding another property located in Burnley, where he was born and where his parents live. Despite his claims that he has lived in the Dewsbury house since 2004, the Burnley property was designated as his main residence (defined by Commons guidelines as the address at which an MP spends most of his or her time) until its sale, which meant that he did not have to pay capital gains tax when his sister bought the house for £235,000.

Gordon Brown, who has been looking a lot more secure than he did last week after Labour's lowest election results in 90 years and a wave of ministerial resignations, will also now have to face questions from MPs in his own party and the Opposition. Only a week ago, it looked like the PM was on the brink of a leadership challenge which may well have deposed him, and so questions as awkward as whether or not he acted too quickly in reinstating Mr. Malik could not come at a worse time.

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