Straw, Rifkind: Former British ministers deny wrongdoing after being caught in lobbying sting

Two former senior British government ministers have denied wrongdoing after being caught in a hidden-camera sting appearing to offer access to politicians and diplomats in return for cash.

Jack Straw, who was foreign secretary under Labour Party Prime Minister Tony Blair, and Conservative former Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, were secretly filmed by reporters posing as representatives of a fictional Hong Kong-based communications agency. The reporters said they were seeking top U.K. politicians to join the firm's advisory board.

Rifkind was recorded saying he could arrange "useful access" to British ambassadors, while Straw spoke of using "charm and menace" to change politicians' minds.

The sting by Channel 4's "Dispatches" and the Daily Telegraph newspaper has reopened debate about political lobbying.

Rifkind and Straw, who are still lawmakers, have referred themselves to parliament's standards watchdog.

As foreign secretary, Straw was an outspoken public advocate of the decision to invade Iraq in 2003, while Rifkind played a highly visible role in diplomatic efforts to bring peace to the Balkans.

Rifkind continues to play a prominent role as chairman of the parliamentary committee that oversees the intelligence services.

He said Monday that allegations of wrongdoing were "unfounded."

Straw said his conversation related to activities he might undertake once he leaves Parliament after the general election in May.

In a lengthy statement, he said he has fully complied with the parliamentary ethics code and disclosed all of his outside interests. He said he had checked out the bogus Hong Kong firm before meeting with its purported representatives to discuss possible work for his post-parliamentary career.

"Events have, however, shown my checks were not sufficient to overcome the skillful deception of the undercover reporters," he said.