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UK election betting scandal widens as Tory officials come under scrutiny

Britain's Prime Minister and Conservative Party leader Rishi Sunak meets with nighttime economy representatives in central London on June 22, 2024 as part of a campaign event in the build-up to the July 4 general election. (Photo by AFP)

The UK's embattled Conservative Party suffers a fresh blow as a fourth Tory official is reportedly investigated over a betting scandal.

British media reported on Saturday that Nick Mason, the chief data officer, came under scrutiny amid gambling allegations related to the national election date.

The Sunday Times and others reported dozens of bets had been placed on the scheduled date of the elections with potential winnings worth thousands of pounds.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said last week that he was "incredibly angry" about the betting scandal and said that anyone authorities found to have broken the law should be expelled from his party.

On May 22, Sunak announced UK parliamentary elections would be held on July 4. The date had been a carefully guarded secret and many were taken by surprise because the vote was expected to be in autumn.

Meantime, the UK's Conservative Party told The Sunday Telegraph Mason had taken a leave of absence.

Earlier, three Tory candidates were already being investigated by the Gambling Commission for betting allegations regarding the date of the upcoming general elections.

Laura Saunders, the Tory candidate for Bristol North West, her husband Tony Lee, the Conservative Party's director of campaigns, and Craig Williams, Sunak’s private secretary, had already come under scrutiny. Williams has even apologized for what he had described as a “huge error of judgment.”

The UK's outgoing Housing Secretary, Michael Gove, likened the latest Conservatives scandal to “partygate” during Boris Johnson’s premiership that contributed to the former prime minister's ouster in 2022.

“It looks like one rule for them and one rule for us," Gove said in an interview with The Sunday Times, adding, “That’s the most potentially damaging thing."

“The perception that we operate outside the rules that we set for others ... was damaging at the time of partygate and is damaging here," he reiterated.

“If you’re in a privileged position [close] to the prime minister at the heart of a political operation and you use inside information to make additional money for yourself, that’s just not acceptable. So if these allegations are true, it’s very difficult to defend,” he added.

The fresh scandal, just two weeks ahead of the national election, has dealt a fresh blow to the Conservative Party, which is widely expected to lose after 14 years in power.

The UK's opposition Labour Party is now expected to win next month's general elections in large part because of the Tory scandal, economic turmoil from Brexit, high taxation and a budget that exacerbated a cost-of-living crisis.

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