Labour minister Malik cleared of breaking rules

LONDON (Reuters) - Shahid Malik, who stepped down as a minister after he was drawn into a controversy over parliamentary expenses, was cleared of wrongdoing on Tuesday and appointed to a new government post.

Malik stepped down temporarily as junior justice minister last month pending an inquiry into allegations by a newspaper that he paid below-market rent for a house, breaching the ministerial code.

The Daily Telegraph made the allegation as part of a series of reports about MPs’ expense claims that have angered voters and rocked Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government.

But Philip Mawer, Brown’s adviser on ministerial interests, concluded that Malik had not broken the ministerial code, the prime minister’s spokesman said.

“He (Mawer) has confirmed that the rent said to have been charged is reasonable in the light of market and other commercial considerations,” the spokesman said.

The government announced that Malik was being appointed to a new junior ministerial post in the Communities and Local Government Department as part of a government reshuffle.

Malik said he was not surprised, but was “extremely relieved” by the outcome of the inquiry. “It’s been the worst three weeks of my life,” he said.

“I want to say thank you to the prime minister. He always said that if I was exonerated, I would return -- and I always knew he would be good to his word.

“Now I really want to focus on serving my constituents... and serving the government and the country,” he told BBC television.

Malik, who protested his innocence throughout, was one of many politicians to suffer in the fallout from the expenses scandal.

Reporting by Adrian Croft and Kate Kelland; Editing by Steve Addison