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U.K. Energy Secretary Huhne Charged, Is Under Pressure to Quit

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Feb. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Energy Secretary Chris Huhne became the first serving British Cabinet minister to be charged with a serious criminal offense in modern times, after his ex-wife accused him of lying about a speeding ticket nine years ago.

Prosecutors have “sufficient evidence to bring criminal charges” against Huhne and his ex-wife, Vicky Pryce, of perverting the course of justice, the director of public prosecutions, Keir Starmer, said in a televised statement in London today. Huhne’s party leader, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, indicated last week he expected the minister to resign if charged.

“I can’t think of a comparable case in British politics where a Cabinet minister is charged by the police for an offense for which they potentially face jail if convicted,” Philip Cowley, professor of politics at Nottingham University, said in a telephone interview.

The energy secretary is one of five Cabinet members from the Liberal Democrats in David Cameron’s Conservative-led coalition. If he quits, it may open the way for the return to the government of David Laws, the Lib Dem who stepped down as chief secretary to the Treasury after less than three weeks in the job in 2010.

Huhne is accused of lying to police to say that Pryce, his then wife, had been driving his car in 2003 when it was caught speeding so that he wouldn’t get a ticket and lose his license, prosecutors said.

“The essence of the charges is that between March and May 2003, Mr. Huhne, having allegedly committed a speeding offence, falsely informed the investigating authorities that Ms. Pryce had been the driver of the vehicle in question, and she falsely accepted that she was the driver,” Starmer said. Police in the eastern English county of Essex opened a probe last year into the allegations.

“In the event of somebody being charged with a criminal offense, they would have to leave the government,” Clegg told BBC television’s “Andrew Marr Show” on Jan. 22. “That has been what’s happened in the past.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net; Lindsay Fortado in London at lfortado@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Aarons at aaarons@bloomberg.net; James Hertling at jhertling@bloomberg.net

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