World

Blair's aides dodge charges in cash-for-honours probe

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said Friday he was "very pleased" to learn no charges would be laid in the so-called cash-for-honours scandal that overshadowed his final year in office.

Former British prime minister Tony Blair said Friday he was "very pleased" to learn no charges would be laid in the so-called cash-for-honours scandal thatovershadowed his final year in office.

The Crown Prosecution Service, which is responsible for prosecuting criminal cases investigated by British police, said it holds insufficient evidence to charge anyone over claims the government nominated big political donors to peerage positions.

"The investigation has ended as I always expected it would. Those involved have been through a terrible, even traumatic time," Blair said in a statement.

"Much of what has been written and said about them has been deeply unfair, and I am very pleased for all of them that it is now over," he added.

Scotland Yard began the inquiry in March 2006 after it came to light that four wealthy businessmen, who had lent a total £5 million ($10.7 million Cdn) to Blair's Labour party, were also nominated to the British House of Lords. The large sums of money helped boost Labour's 2005 general election campaign.

Over 16 months, Metropolitan police interviewed 136 people, arrested four people — two of whom were within Blair's inner circle — and also questioned Blair three separate times, making him the first sittingprime ministerto be questioned by police in a criminal probe.

Detectives maintained the former prime minister was never treated as a suspect in the case, only as a possible witness.

By the end, the investigation cost taxpayers £1 million ($2.1 million Cdn).

Relief for2 arrested aides

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, who was sworn in last month, expressed relief that the CPS decision would "bring an end to what has been now months of speculation."

Both of Blair's close aides who were arrested, Ruth Turner and Lord Levy, said they were delighted with the news, but Levy also lashed out at "misleading, factually inaccurate and personally damaging" reports in the media.

Police launched the inquiries last year after the Scottish National Party filed the original complaint alleging corruption. On Friday, Blair said he held no ill will towards the investigating officers, blaming the Scottish National Party for police "in an invidious position."

Thefour businessman nominated for peerages were laterblocked from beingable to obtainseats by the House of Lords commission thatconsidersappointments.