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Blair quizzed again in funds probe

Story Highlights

• Blair questioned by police for 2nd time in probe into political party funding
• Police had requested news blackout on interview, which took place last Friday
• Investigation into claims that Labour Party pledged honors in return for loans
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- British police have questioned UK Prime Minister Tony Blair for a second time as part of an investigation into political party funding, his spokesman says.

Blair was questioned as a witness for less than an hour at 10 Downing Street last Friday morning, the spokesman said. Police requested a news blackout on the interview, which was not lifted until Thursday morning.

Police are investigating allegations that Blair's ruling Labour Party promised honors -- including seats in the upper House of Lords and knighthoods -- in return for loans to help a 2005 general election campaign. (Watch as scandal threatens Blair Video)

Downing Street refused to comment on the content of the interview, which came a few days after the January 19 arrest of Blair's close aide, Ruth Turner, on suspicion of perverting the course of justice, and shortly before this week's arrest of his chief fundraiser, Michael Levy. (Full story)

At Blair's weekly questions session on Wednesday, Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond asked if there had been a cover-up of wrongdoing. Blair told Salmond that "for perfectly obvious reasons, that there is nothing I can say on this subject."

Downing Street said it was not known whether Blair would be questioned again, saying that was "a matter entirely for police."

Blair was not under caution and was not accompanied by a lawyer for Friday's interview, his official spokesman said.

"Last Friday, the prime minister was briefly interviewed by the police as a witness. At the request of the police this was kept utterly confidential and, as a result, the press and communications team in Downing Street were not informed. As far as they were concerned nothing had changed," the spokesman said in a statement.

"During the course of yesterday afternoon the police contacted Downing Street to inform us that the requirement for confidentiality had been lifted. We are therefore informing you at the first appropriate moment."

The Metropolitan Police issued a statement saying: "The prime minister has been interviewed briefly to clarify points emerging from the ongoing investigation. He was interviewed as a witness, not as a suspect and co-operated fully.

"We requested the meeting was kept confidential for operational reasons. We are not prepared to discuss further."

When questioned in December, Blair became the first serving British leader to be questioned by police in a criminal investigation.

CNN's European Political Editor, Robin Oakley, said: "It's something we have never seen before in political history. This is a potential political scandal of massive proportions and it could indeed see Tony Blair hounded out of office even sooner than he had indicated some time this summer."

The police investigation into party funding began in March 2006, sparked by a complaint by the SNP.

"It's another extraordinary development -- we're in uncharted political waters. It looks as though Blair's house of cards is coming tumbling down," the party's leader Alex Salmond told Reuters.


Tony Blair was questioned as a witness for less than one hour.




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