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MP Rehman Chishti facing calls to pay back Saudi Arabian cash and apologise

A Conservative MP is facing calls to pay back more than £40,000 he received as an advisor to an organisation based in Saudi Arabia.

Rehman Chishti, who represents Gillingham and Rainham, is being scrutinised over his links to a think tank headquartered in Riyadh.

It comes as the Saudi government comes under increasing international pressure over the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi – a journalist who was allegedly killed after entering the country's consulate in Turkey.

Mr Chishti was paid £2,000 a month as an adviser to the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies from March 2016 until January 31 this year.

The organisation, dedicated to the former king of the Saudi royal family, was launched in 1983.

The 40-year-old MP, who worked about 10 hours a month for the think tank, listed his role as "providing advice to the centre on its work on international relations covering Europe and the Middle East".

Mr Chishti told Channel 4 News: "The role that I had was with regards to an independent think tank.

"If the reports are proven to be what I hear in the paper, it is completely and uttlerly unacceptable and I would say the international community, our country included, has to take every possible action to ensure that those who are responsible, whoever they are, are brought to account."

He added: "I'm doing what I'm doing as vice chairman of the Conservative party and I don't have time for any other responsibility."

Gillingham and Rainham’s Labour Parliamentary Candidate, Councillor Andy Stamp, called on the Conservative MP to repay the money and apologise.

“Saudi Arabia has a well-documented, appalling human rights record," Cllr Stamp. "The Saudi regime oppresses women and restricts individual freedom.

"I am dismayed that our Conservative MP would ever think it acceptable to work on behalf of a think-tank so closely linked to such a regime.

“Rehman Chishti should return the £46,000 he has received immediately, with no excuses. He should also apologise to the people of Gillingham and Rainham for such a shocking error of judgement.

“Rehman has a lot of explaining to do. What did he receive the payments for? Why did he think this was acceptable?

"His constituents have a right to know who their MP accepts money from, who he is influenced by and who he’s beholden to.”

Rehman Chishti has received more than £40,000 in payments from a Riyadh-based think tank
Rehman Chishti has received more than £40,000 in payments from a Riyadh-based think tank

“Finally, Rehman should also rule out accepting any further payments from this organisation, or any others which are closely aligned to Saudi Arabia, something which he refused to do when interviewed by Channel 4 News yesterday.”

In all, 33 MPs, including Mr Chishti, have visited oil-rich Saudi Arabia since March 2015, with the trips worth more than £200,000.

The country has denied killing the Washington Post journalist Mr Khashoggi, with US President Donald Trump warning of "severe" consequences if the country is found to have ordered his death.

Saudi Arabia has since confirmed he was killed inside the consulate after a fight broke out. Eighteen people have been arrested in connection with his death.

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