British prosecutors have accused a Tory representative of falsifying spending declarations in 2015. Craig Mackinlay is currently battling in next week's general election - as is the entire Conservative Party.
The Conservative party received another blow on Friday, just one week before the British go to the polls to vote in snap general election, when the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) announced it had charged Mackinlay with having broken campaign spending rules.
In a statement released by the CPS, the prosecution accused the 50-year-old Tory member of parliament from South Thanet of having made declarations "falsely" under the Representation of People Act 1983, which limits and regulates campaign expenses.
Two other members of Mackinlay's campaign team, election agent Nathan Gray and party organizer Marion Little, were also charged with related criminal offenses.
"We have concluded there is sufficient evidence and it is in the public interest to authorize charges against three people," CPS said.
All three are due to appear in court on July 4.
Charges days before an election
The charges came as Mackinlay battles to retain his MP seat in the UK's general election on June 8. Despite the formal charges, Mackinlay's name will remain on the ballot as the deadline for withdrawing nominations has passed. If he were to win, he would be allowed to take his seat.
The investigation into Mackinlay was part of a broader probe into whether Conservatives reported local expenses as national ones during the 2015 election in several closely contested constituencies. CPS did not bring criminal charges against any of the other politicians they investigated.
In 2015, Mackinlay won the South Thanet seat over UKIP then-leader Nigel Farage by around 2,800 votes.
Candidates in 2015 for South Thanet: Farage (L), comedian Al Murray and Mackinlay react to Mackinlay's win
The Conservative Party said the allegations against Mackinlay were "unfounded" and accused the broader investigation of stemming from politically motivated complaints.
The announcement of formal charges against Mackinlay comes at an ill time for conservatives. The party of current Prime Minister Theresa May had been struggling with double-digit declining poll numbers during the final week of the general campaign.
Farage, while not running himself for election, tweeted a video on Friday stating that the charges against Mackinlay had written off a Conservative victory in South Thanet.
"The chances of people voting for [Mackinlay] are very slim, so I think that constituency will be a straight fight now between UKIP and the Labour party," he said.
The latest YouGov poll released Friday showed the Conservatives winning only 313 seats in the election, which would leave them 13 short of a majority. This was a drop from the previous day's poll that showed the party only nine seats down from a majority.
Some commentators have attributed the Conservative's sinking poll numbers to an overreliance on May's individual leadership. She has recently pulled a series of U-turns on a number of policy issues, including the so-called "dementia tax," that resulted in heavy criticism. Her party had 330 seats when she called the snap election.
Friday's poll also showed the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn as gaining four seats in comparison to Thursday's numbers, with a likely 257 now going to his party.
cmb/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)