The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is expected to announce if a raft of Tory MPs will be criminally charged over the alleged 2015 election expenses scandal, before the general election.
Up to 20 former Conservative MPs standing for re-election are vulnerable, after a Channel 4 News investigation found a battle bus campaigning in marginal seats was charged to national rather than local campaigns.
The MPs facing such accusations have strongly denied any suggestion of wrongdoing.
After Prime Minister Theresa May unexpectedly called the snap election last month, some Labour MPs and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage speculated that Mrs. May was seeking to avoid a series of embarrassing by-elections in the seats.
However, The Sunday Telegraph has now learnt the CPS will announce any charges before the June 8th vote – meaning the Tories could be forced to confront the issue during the election campaign.
The CPS is obliged to come to a decision soon because of time limits set out in law around when cases have to be bought over wrongdoing in elections.
Some commentators said the CPS announcement could be comparable to the moment when the FBI revealed it was conducting a second investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails days before the U.S. election.
The so-called “battle” buses were organised by disgraced former Conservative Party candidate Mark Clarke, and their running costs and associated hotel bills appeared on the Tories’ national expenses return. The electoral commission, however, has said they should have been charged to individual Conservative candidates and their campaigns.
Some of the most serious alleged overspending happened in South Thanet, where former UKIP leader Nigel Farage stood against the Conservatives. The Tories spent £15,000 on one hotel alone.
The Conservatives were fined a record £70,000 on 16 March 2017 over missing and unreported payments, with the Electoral Commission claiming the rule breaking gave them a “realistic prospect” of an unfair advantage over UKIP in the seat.