UK's Johnson faces formal probe over funding of apartment renovation

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LONDON (REUTERS) – Britain’s electoral commission opened a formal investigation into the financing of the refurbishment of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street apartment, saying there were grounds to suspect an offence may have been committed.

Eight days before local elections across England, as well as the election of the Welsh and Scottish regional assemblies, Johnson is facing a stream of allegations about everything from his muddled initial handling of the Covid-19 crisis to questions about who leaked what from his office.

“We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred,” the electoral commission said on Wednesday (April 28).

“We will therefore continue this work as a formal investigation to establish whether this is the case.”

The commission said it had been in contact with Johnson’s Conservative Party over the issue since late March.

The investigation will determine whether any transactions relating to the works at 11 Downing Street fall within the regime regulated by the commission and whether such funding was reported as required.

Asked last month about the refurbishment, Johnson’s spokeswoman said all donations, gifts and benefits were properly declared, and that no Conservative Party funds were being used to pay for the refurbishment.

Johnson has a taxpayer-funded £30,000 (S$55,000) allowance each year for maintaining and furnishing his official residence, but anything above that is supposed to come out of the prime minister’s own pocket.

Ministers have said Johnson has paid for the work himself, but it is unclear when he paid, and whether the refurbishment, reported to have cost £200,000 was initially financed by a loan of some kind. Under political financing rules, Johnson would have been required to declare this.

The opposition Labour Party has demanded an explanation.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner wrote to Simon Case, the head of the civil service, asking him to investigate answers about the affair given by Johnson’s then-press secretary earlier this year. Allegra Stratton, a former BBC journalist, was Johnson’s press secretary from October until last week.

Dominic Cummings, who was Johnson’s key