Prescott Gets Slap On The Wrist

U.K Deputy Leader John Prescott got a slap-on-the-wrist reprimand for keeping quiet about his freebie jaunt to Philip Anschutz’s Colorado ranch.

Meanwhile, the U.S. billionaire’s AEG entertainment company seems reluctant to comment on whether the episode has done any lasting damage to its bid to put a casino in the old Millennium Dome.

For Prescott, the hospitality and gifts he got from Anschutz – some grits, a free bunk to sleep in, a Stetson and a pair of cowboy boots – have cost him an embarrassing dressing-down. But the public damage it has done to the American company isn’t so easy to assess.

Rival bidders for the U.K. super-casino license are likely to try to maximize the harm, having already questioned Prescott’s judgment over visiting Anschutz privately in his home.

AEG chief exec Tim Leiweke told the Los Angeles Times (July 13th) the British press is damaging his boss’ reputation in its effort to bring down Prescott, but there’s no word on whether he thinks the media frenzy will return if the company gets the go-ahead to put gambling rooms in the Greenwich peninsula development.

He reportedly dismissed stories that Anschutz could have used private meetings with Prescott to seek favors as “vicious” and “false.”

“It is unfair to the development, the people of London who will pay a price for not maximizing this opportunity and to Phil,” Leiweke told the paper during a telephone interview from Denver after returning from a business trip to Europe.

While Leiweke’s office hasn’t responded to Pollstar questions on the matter, the U.K. media shows no signs of letting it drop.

“In any other walk of life, Prescott would be clearing his desk,” The Times reported July 21st, appalled that the deputy PM will be running the country when his boss takes an August holiday.

A couple of days later its sister paper – The Sunday Times – said Chancellor of The Exchequer Gordon Brown, presumed to be Blair’s successor, has reacted to the Prescott business by backing calls for even stricter rules on ministers and MPs declaring gifts and hospitality.

Prescott revealed in a July 23rd interview on BBC TV’s Sunday AM programme that he wore the cowboy outfit, complete with a white Stetson, calf-length boots with spurs, and a belt with a silver buckle engraved with his initials, while touring the ranch on horseback.

So far, Blair has refused to launch an enquiry into whether his deputy also breached the ministerial code by putting himself in a position where he could be perceived as having a conflict of interest. Sir Philip Mawer, chairman of the public standards’ committee that delivered Prescott’s slap on the wrist, suggested he probably did.

A complaint from Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker caused the Metropolitan police to start preliminary enquiries into whether Prescott receiving gifts from Anschutz breaks the terms of the 1906 and 1916 Prevention of Corruption Acts.

– John Gammon