UKIP member's Pakistan kidnap scandal past revealed

LONDON (REUTERS) - The UK Independence Party (UKIP), which wants Britain to leave the European Union (EU), suffered a setback ahead of European elections after a prominent party member confirmed he had spent time in jail for being involved in a kidnapping in Pakistan.

The scandal is the latest to buffet UKIP, which opinion polls show is on course to beat Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative party in May elections for the European Parliament and to split the centre-right vote at a national election in 2015.

BBC TV reported on Monday night that Mr Mujeeb ur Rehman Bhutto, who had previously appeared on television as a UKIP spokesman, was the former leader of a gang in Pakistan which was behind a high-profile kidnapping in Karachi in 2004.

"As soon as we were made aware of allegations relating to this report we confronted him and he immediately resigned his membership," UKIP said in a statement on Tuesday.

UKIP has been hit by a series of scandals involving the views and background of its members.

Last month, one of its local councillors in England provoked uproar when he said that recent flooding across Britain was God's punishment for parliament backing gay marriage.

In August last year, a UKIP lawmaker in the European Parliament caused similar outrage by describing some of the countries Britain sends aid to as "bongo bongo land".

A spokeswoman for UKIP said Mr Bhutto had not held the post of a formal spokesman and that he had no responsibilities beyond that of a normal member.

UKIP said Mr Bhutto had previously been a member of the Conservatives and had since rejoined Cameron's party. A Conservative spokesman said his application to become a member had been rejected.

The BBC reported that following the kidnapping, Mr Bhutto came to Manchester in the north of England to collect a 56,000 pound (S$116,700) ransom payment, which was later found hidden under his bed in a house where he was staying in Leeds.

Mr Bhutto admitted conspiracy to blackmail and was jailed for seven years by a UK court in 2005.

Mr Bhutto told the BBC he had admitted the charges against him rather than risk being sent back to Pakistan and hanged.

"The evidence which was brought against me was from Pakistan. The allegation was simply because of political rivalry," the BBC quoted him as saying.

Reuters could not immediately contact Mr Bhutto.

UKIP has 13 seats in the European parliament and took a quarter of the votes cast in local elections in May.

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