LONDON- A British government minister stepped down on Friday pending an investigation of allegations that he paid below-market rent for a house, the highest profile casualty so far of a growing expenses scandal.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown asked his independent adviser on ministerial interests, Philip Mawer, to investigate allegations about junior Justice Minister Shahid Malik that were made in the Daily Telegraph newspaper on Friday.
Pending the outcome of that urgent investigation, Shahid Malik will be stepping down as minister, Brown's spokesman said.
Malik is the latest politician to suffer from the fallout of a growing controversy over politicians' perks which has drawn a wave of voter anger that is hurting all the major parties, but particularly Brown's Labour party, in power since 1997.
A member of parliament was suspended from the Labour party and a senior adviser to opposition Conservative leader David Cameron stepped down on Thursday over their expense claims.
The Daily Telegraph said Malik claimed more than 23,000 pounds ($34,990) from the taxpayer last year for his London house while securing a three-bedroom house in his Yorkshire constituency, in northern England, at a discounted rent of less than 100 pounds a week.
Malik said he had followed the rules on parliamentary expenses and the Telegraph allegations were inaccurate.
Mawer will investigate whether Malik broke the ministerial code by failing to declare that he was paying a below-market rent. The investigation will take some days.
An opinion poll published on Friday showed Labour slumping to an all-time low as the government bore the brunt of voter anger over the expenses scandal.
But while the affair has greatly embarrassed politicians, experts do not expect it to have any financial or broader investment impact.
It is, however, piling pressure on the government to call elections sooner than the next scheduled date of mid-2010.