LONDON, ENGLAND - British police said they would examine allegations over the lavish expense claims of lawmakers after the scandal engulfed its first government minister and public anger grew.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown on Friday suspended junior justice minister Shahid Malik while his claims for tens of thousands of pounds are investigated, as the embarrassing row escalated.
The potential legal implications of the scandal were laid bare when London police said senior officers and lawyers would scrutinise complaints about lawmakers' claims to see if they merit a criminal investigation.
The announcements came after The Daily Telegraph revealed that Malik claimed substantial public funds for a second home while paying below-market rent for his main house.
The revelations made by the Telegraph showed no sign of halting on Saturday, as the eighth day of stories revealed a veteran figure in Brown's Labour party claimed 8,000 pounds (9,000 euros, 12,000 dollars) for a television.
The lawmaker, Gerald Kaufman, asked a civil servant handling the claims "why are you querying these expenses?" and he was not paid the full amount, the newspaper reported.
The allowances furore has rocked all three of Britain's principal parties, but the suspension of Malik -- the first Muslim minister in the British government -- is a new blow to Brown as he grapples with dismal poll ratings.
A new survey Friday put his Labour party on 22 percent, against 41 percent for the main opposition Conservatives.
Brown must call a general election by mid-2010 but almost two in three voters believe a snap election should now be held, according to a different poll.
In the case of Malik, Brown's spokesman said the premier had asked an independent advisor on ministerial interests, Philip Mawer, to investigate the claims but that the minister would retain his job if he was cleared.
"There have been accusations made in the past 24 hours against Shahid Malik, in particular that he received preferential rent on his main residence," the spokesman said.
The Telegraph said Malik had claimed nearly 67,000 pounds on his London home over three years, while paying less than 100 pounds a week on a house in his constituency he designated his main residence.
The claims on the London flat included 2,600 pounds for a home cinema system, although parliamentary authorities only agreed to pay half, and 730 pounds for a "massage chair".
Malik told the Telegraph he spent most of his time at his constituency home and it was right that it be registered as his main property, allowing him to claim expenses on his more expensive house in the capital.
He protested his innocence in a series of media interviews hours before it was revealed he was stepping down.
"I have absolutely nothing to apologise for," he said in his constituency of Dewsbury in Yorkshire, northern England, which has a large Asian community.
"I'm not in it for the money. I'm here to make a difference. I love this country. I love this constituency. I want to make a difference and that's the only reason I'm in politics."
He won his local party's backing late Friday, but voters were divided over his suspension.
Diane Hughes, 52, shopping in the town centre, said: "It's the best news I've had all year and it's only May. It really didn't surprise me to tell the truth. Most of my friends just don't like him at all."
Outside a mosque, one young man said: "I think he's a good MP and he's done a good job. I will vote for him in the national elections."
On Saturday, the Telegraph reported that another lawmaker from Brown's Labour party had claimed thousands of pounds of taxpayers' money to cover interest payments on a non-existent home loan.
David Chaytor will pay back 13,000 pounds after telling the newspaper he had made an "unforgivable error" by continuing to make the claims after the loan was paid off.
Earlier this week, a former minister, Elliot Morley, was suspended after claiming thousands of pounds under similar circumstances. --AFP