MP JONATHAN Edwards tonight said it "beggars belief" that the Chief Executive of Carmarthenshire County Council remains in office after police announced Gloucestershire Constabulary would launch a formal investigation into Wales Audit Office claims of unlawful payments.

Mr James, 53, the £180,000-a-year chief executive of the local authority, was widely expected to be suspended following Dyfed-Powys Police's announcement at 4pm.

A statement issued shortly afterwards by Council Leader Kevin Madge revealed that the Welsh Local Government Association would lead on an external review of the council's corporate governance – but made no mention of Merthyr-born Mr James, who had headed the authority since 2002.

“The public, media, county residents and all observers immediately recognised the seriousness of the audit reports when they were published two weeks ago," said Mr Edwards. "I welcome the action of the police today as this situation clearly merits investigation.

“The Labour leader of Carmarthenshire Council, Kevin Madge, has been dragged kicking and screaming into showing just an ounce of leadership, but he has failed. He has failed again today with his response to the police investigation.

"For the past thirteen days Kevin Madge has been more interested in issuing personal attacks on anyone who dared to question his extremely poor judgment.

“Now that we have a police investigation underway, the Chief Executive should be immediately suspended from his post. It beggars belief that the Chief Executive is in office whilst the police are investigating whether any criminal activity has taken place. Carmarthenshire Council, with the Labour and Independent parties at the helm, is bereft of leadership.

“At every level of government civil servants advise and elected politicians decide – the same applies to Carmarthenshire Council. The Executive Board is responsible for the unlawful decisions they have taken.

“The elected leaders of the council should therefore apologise to the taxpayers’ of Carmarthenshire for their unlawful actions and resign. It is the bare minimum they should do as a result of the damaging audit reports, and for their subsequent actions in treating Carmarthenshire residents with contempt.

“Kevin Madge’s defiance, dithering and delay has seen the good name of Carmarthenshire dragged through the mud. His disgraceful behaviour in approving a tax avoidance scheme should alone make him hang his head in shame.”

Peter Hughes Griffiths, Leader of the Plaid Cymru opposition group in County Hall, accused Cllr Madge of "ducking" the political decisions required.

“The response of the Labour council leader is totally unbelievable," he added. "How can he justify not immediately suspending the council's Chief Executive? His suggestion of an external inquiry by the WLGA is quite pathetic.

“Cllr Madge seems to have lost his grasp on the situation entirely.

"As Leader, he failed to take decisive action when the reports were published and he has failed to take decisive action today. How can he remain in his post? The public will think it disgraceful that the council leader has ducked the political decisions required in his role.