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Photo: Toby Melville - WPA Pool / Getty Images

The U.K.'s Electoral Commission on Wednesday announced an investigation into allegations that Prime Minister Boris Johnson had Conservative Party donors "secretly pay" for a renovation of his apartment at No. 11 Downing Street.

Why it matters: It's unprecedented for a sitting prime minister to face this kind of investigation, which could result in a fine of up to £20,000 and a referral to police if the violations are serious, according to The Times of London.

What they're saying: “We have been in contact with the Conservative Party since late March and have conducted an assessment of the information they have provided to us," the Electoral Commission said in a statement.

  • "We are now satisfied that there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred. We will therefore continue this work as a formal investigation to establish whether this is the case."

Background: Prime ministers receive an annual public grant of £30,000 to renovate their homes, but there was speculation that Johnson and his fiancée spent as much as £200,000 on a luxury refurbishment — which Downing Street insists was paid for out of their own pocket.

  • It is not illegal for prime ministers to accept loans or donations, but they must be publicly declared within 28 days.
  • In response to questions about the funding of the apartment, Johnson said: "If there's anything to be said about that, any declaration to be made, that will of course be made in due course."

The big picture: The allegations became much more serious when Dominic Cummings, Johnson's controversial former top aide, claimed he told the PM that his "plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended."

  • Cummings, considered one of the chief architects of the Brexit campaign, ended his tumultuous tenure at Downing Street after falling out with Johnson over staffing issues last year.
  • His allegations about the apartment are part of a broader leak scandal that includes reports that Johnson said he'd rather let "bodies pile high in their thousands" than impose another coronavirus lockdown in England.

Go deeper

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Nor'easter slams East Coast with flooding rain and powerful winds

A residential area in Middlesex County as floodwater from the nor'easter covers streets in New Jersey on Tuesday. Photo: Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A monster storm was slamming the Northeast with record rainfall and powerful winds over Tuesday night — causing flash flooding that resulted in people having to be rescued in New Jersey and New York roads to close.

Threat level: All of southern New England westward to New York City and northern New Jersey was under the threat of flash flooding and coastal flooding from the nor'easter through Tuesday night into early Wednesday, per the National Weather Service.

1 hour ago - World

Blinken speaks with Sudan prime minister after his release

Sudan's Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok. Photo: Ebrahim Hamid/AFP via Getty Images

Secretary of State Tony Blinken spoke on the phone on Tuesday evening with Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok after the military released him from custody.

Why it matters: Hamdok’s release was a result of pressure on Sudan’s military leader General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan from the U.S. and other countries but also from the different political parties in Sudan and massive protests in the streets.

Updated 4 hours ago - World

Brazil senators vote to recommend criminal charges for Bolsonaro

Brazilian senators vote on probe into President Bolsonaro's handling of pandemic. Photo: Gustavo Minas/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A Brazilian Senate committee Tuesday voted to approve a report recommending President Jair Bolsonaro be charged with a raft of criminal indictments, including crimes against humanity over his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, per AP.

Why it matters: Bolsonaro has become the face of a right-wing approach to the pandemic that includes repudiating vaccines and masks and resisting lockdowns and other mitigation measures. The Senate report holds him personally responsible for half of the country's 600,000 deaths.