UK Treasury minister resigns amid expenses scandal

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LONDON (AP) — A senior minister in Britain’s new coalition government resigned Saturday after admitting that he claimed tens of thousands of pounds (dollars) in taxpayers’ money to pay rent to his long-term partner.

David Laws said he would step down immediately as Chief Treasury Secretary, a role he had occupied for less than a month. He will be replaced by fellow Liberal Democrat Danny Alexander.

It was the first major setback to Prime Minister David Cameron’s coalition government, which had promised to crack down on politicians’ abuse of expense claims. Hundreds of lawmakers in the previous Parliament had used taxpayers’ money to fund everything from swanky second homes to horse manure and a mole catcher. Five lawmakers have been charged with false accounting, and scores of others were either forced to resign or decided not to run for office again.

Laws — whose job was to implement the new government’s deficit reduction plan — apologized and said he would immediately pay back the money, which the Daily Telegraph newspaper said totaled 40,000 pounds ($57,822).

The newspaper reported that Laws claimed up to 950 pounds a month in taxpayer money between 2004 and 2007 to rent a room in two properties owned by his partner, James Lundie.

Parliamentary rules have banned lawmakers from leasing accommodation from spouses, family members or a “partner” since 2006. Laws explained Friday that he did not intend to profit from the claims, and that his motivation throughout was to protect his and Lundie’s privacy and keep his sexuality a secret.

Laws said Saturday he could not carry on in his role after the “distressing” revelations.

“I do not see how I can carry out my crucial work on the budget and spending review while I have to deal with the private and public implications of recent revelations,” Laws said as he read out a statement at the Treasury.

“While my recent problems were caused by my desire to keep my sexuality secret … I cannot now escape the conclusion that what I have done was in some way wrong, even though I did not gain any financial benefit,” he said.

Cameron praised Laws as a “good and honorable man” and said he had made a real difference in his short time at the Treasury.

Laws, a relatively unknown Liberal Democrat just weeks ago, was catapulted into the limelight when he emerged as one of the key players in negotiating the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition deal.