Ian Paisley challenges BBC over Maldives allegations
IAN Paisley has challenged the BBC to present any evidence of alleged wrongdoing to a parliamentary watchdog following the latest claims about his luxury foreign holidays.
Commenting for the first time on fresh allegations levelled against him about undeclared overseas trips, the North Antrim MP said Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Kathryn Stone could examine the issues raised.
The DUP MP declined to be drawn on the specifics of a BBC Spotlight programme, which included a claim that an undeclared family holiday to the Maldives was partly paid for by a former government minister in the Indian Ocean country.
Insisting he could not give a "running commentary" on the claims, Mr Paisley said: "If the BBC think I have done anything wrong, all the BBC has to do is to submit evidence to the parliamentary commissioner."
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"The independent authority can examine on all of those matters and make their own ruling – that's the only comment I can make."
Asked by a BBC reporter if his constituents deserved a fuller explanation, Mr Paisley added: "Don't worry about my constituents; my constituents and me have a very good and sound relationship."
The Westminster watchdog has already been urged to launch another investigation into Mr Paisley, however, rules prevent Mrs Stone from either confirming or denying whether she has launched a probe.
Following a separate inquiry by Mrs Stone last year, the North Antrim MP was suspended from the House of Commons for 30 sitting days for "serious misconduct" after failing to declare two family holidays to Sri Lanka in 2013.
He survived Westminster's first ever recall petition.
DUP leader Arlene Foster has acknowledged that "serious issues" had been raised by the latest allegations and said party officers would conduct their own inquiries.
The programme claimed one of a number of undeclared luxury family holidays Mr Paisley reportedly took was paid for by a former minister in the Maldives government, while another trip had also been complimentary.
Last December, in the wake of the Sri Lankan revelations, BBC Spotlight raised queries over who paid for a luxury holiday the DUP MP and his family took to the Coco Bodu Hithi resort in the Maldives in 2016.
Mr Paisley said then that he paid for part of the holiday and the rest was paid for by a friend.
He did not reveal the identity of this friend, but added that the friend was unconnected with his work and has received no benefit as a result of his work.
Tuesday's follow-up programme, reported that the friend was Mohamed Shainee, who at the time of Mr Paisley's trip to Coco Bodu Hithi was the Maldives fisheries and agriculture minister.
Mr Shainee told the programme he did not pay for the trip but the hotel's owners claimed the minister settled the bill.