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British lawmaker Keith Vaz quits senior post amid sex and drug scandal

British Labour Party Member of Parliament  Keith Vaz  speaks in the House of Commons, London in this image taken from video on Monday. [Associated Press]
British Labour Party Member of Parliament Keith Vaz speaks in the House of Commons, London in this image taken from video on Monday. [Associated Press]
Published Sep. 7, 2016

LONDON — Caught in what appeared to be a classic British newspaper exposé, an opposition lawmaker on Tuesday relinquished leadership of an influential parliamentary committee over allegations that he paid for the services of prostitutes and offered to buy drugs for them.

Two days after the Sunday Mirror published a report about the encounter involving the lawmaker, Keith Vaz, a prominent member of the Labour Party and a former minister for Europe, Vaz said it was "in the best interest" of the Home Affairs Select Committee, which he led, for its work to be "conducted without any distractions whatsoever."

"I am genuinely sorry that recent events make it impossible for this to happen if I remain chair," Vaz said in a statement.

After the allegations were published Sunday, Vaz argued that it was "deeply disturbing that a national newspaper should have paid individuals to have acted in this way," adding that he would refer the report to his lawyers.

Britain's freewheeling tabloid press has been more restrained in recent times, after scandals over telephone hacking that led to an inquiry into ethical standards at the country's newspapers.

The Sunday Mirror sought to justify its report by pointing to the political responsibilities of Vaz, suggesting that his conduct had compromised his ability to fulfill his duties.

As chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee in the House of Commons, he enjoyed a prominent role in oversight of the Home Office, the department that controls Britain's policy on, among other things, drugs and prostitution.

Even before his announcement Tuesday, some politicians had suggested that his resignation was inevitable. John Whittingdale, who served as culture secretary under former Prime Minister David Cameron, said Sunday that he understood that Vaz would relinquish his leadership of the committee.

"Given the areas of which the committee is responsible, that does seem to me to be a sensible course of action," Whittingdale told Sky News.

According to the Sunday Mirror, Vaz, who is a married father of two, met with two men, identified by the tabloid as prostitutes, on Aug. 27 at an apartment in London.

Before meeting with them, Vaz texted one of the men and asked him to bring poppers, a class of chemicals called alkyl nitrites that can be inhaled for a quick high or to enhance sexual pleasure, although the paper reported that Vaz had said that he did not use the drug himself.

Vaz also discussed paying for cocaine but said he would not consume it, the paper reported.

In Parliament, Vaz has argued against including poppers in a list of banned substances.

During the encounter, Vaz told the men that his name was Jim and that he was a salesman for industrial washing machines, the Sunday Mirror reported, but one of the escorts recognized the lawmaker from his television appearances.