Inquiry Sought Into Deripaska Affair

LONDON -- Prime Minister Gordon Brown called on Wednesday for an investigation into claims that Conservative Party members approached billionaire Oleg Deripaska to make an illegal donation to party funds.

Shadow Chancellor George Osborne has denied that he or his party asked Deripaska for a donation but said he met him four times over a weekend while on vacation in August in Corfu.

British law bans political parties from accepting donations from foreign citizens who are not registered to vote.

Asked about the claims in the House of Commons, Brown said, "This is a very serious matter indeed and I hope it is investigated by the authorities."

It wasn't immediately clear what kind of investigation Brown was considering. The Electoral Commission said it had not been asked to look into the matter.

A spokeswoman for the voting watchdog confirmed that it was not an offense to solicit a political donation.

Fund manager Nathaniel Rothschild caused a political storm on Tuesday after he said Osborne had visited Deripaska's yacht, moored off Corfu, in order to approach the tycoon for funding.

Osborne responded in a detailed statement that he had never even discussed with Deripaska the possibility of a donation.

Political commentators said the affair at the very least raised questions about Osborne's judgment in accepting Deripaska's hospitality.

Conservative Leader David Cameron backed his shadow chancellor, saying he had done nothing wrong.

The Financial Times, which carried a two-page spread on the "Deripaska affair" on Wednesday, said Osborne's real mistake was to breach a Mafia-style code of silence on private meetings.

"Mr. Osborne committed the cardinal sin of revealing details of his agreeable weekend spent in northern Corfu," the newspaper wrote. "Yesterday, Mr. Rothschild got his revenge."