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April 28, 2021

The U.K.’s Electoral Commission on Wednesday opened a formal investigation into allegations that the country’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson made Conservative Party donors secretly fund an expensive renovation of his private residence at 10 Downing Street, an unprecedented step against a sitting Prime Minister which could see him pay a hefty fine if he’s found guilty.

While announcing the investigation, an Electoral Commission spokesperson said there are “reasonable grounds” to suspect that an offense may have occurred.

Johnson and his fiancee Carrie Symonds allegedly carried out renovations that could have cost nearly $277,000 (£200,000)—despite the fact that the Prime Minister is only entitled to an annual public grant of $41,500 (£30,000) to spend on the apartment, according to the BBC.

The Times reported that the investigation could result in a fine of $27,000 (£20,000) and a referral to police if the alleged violations are found to be serious.

The Prime Minister defended himself in the Parliament on Wednesday and said that no offense occurred in paying for the Downing Street flat refurbishment and claimed that he himself covered the costs.

The opposition Labour Party slammed Johnson’s conduct in answering questions about the renovation. Senior Labour lawmaker David Lammy tweeted: “The sleaze is dripping off  Boris Johnson at PMQs (Prime Minister's Questions). Refusing to answer who initially paid for the redecoration of his Downing Street flat will not cut it as the Electoral Commission says ‘there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offense or offenses may have occurred.’”

The issue came into the spotlight last week after Johnson’s former chief adviser Dominic Cummings wrote about it in his blog. Cummings alleged Johnson once planned to have donors “secretly pay” for the work on his apartment. Cummings claims he told Johnson this purported plan was ”unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended.” If the prime minister did accept money for the refurbishment from private donors, he would be expected to make it public within 28 days, something Johnson did not do. The U.K. government has been looking into forming a charitable trust to fund the maintenance and renovation of Downing Street buildings although no such trust has been formed yet. But, the Daily Mail reported that former Conservative Party Vice-Chair and House of Lords member David Brownlow said last year that he was making a donation of $80,000 (£58,000) to the party, “to cover the payments the party has already made on behalf of the soon to be formed ‘Downing Street Trust'”.