Sam Bright explores the links between a firm owned by Sunak’s wife and a Russian billionaire

Chancellor Rishi Sunak and his family are financially linked to a firm that has received substantial investment from a Russian billionaire with past connections to a Kremlin insider, Byline Times can reveal.

Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murthy, is listed as the majority shareholder of Catamaran Ventures UK Limited – a venture capital firm that has invested in more than two dozen companies, according to its website. Sunak himself was listed as a director of the firm from 2013 to 2015, prior to entering Parliament in May 2015.

Significant public scrutiny has been applied to the Chancellor in recent days over Murthy’s £690 million stake in the IT services and consultancy company Infosys – a firm that continues to operate in Russia. Murthy has collected an estimated £11.5 million in dividend payments from Infosys over the past year.

The UK Ministerial Code states that:

“Ministers must provide their Permanent Secretary with a full list in writing of all interests which might be thought to give rise to a conflict. The list should also cover interests of the Minister’s spouse or partner and close family which might be thought to give rise to a conflict.”

Asked by Sky News to justify his wife’s shareholding in Infosys, Sunak said that: “I am an elected politician and I am here to talk about what I am responsible for. My wife is not”.

However, as the Ministerial Code states, Sunak is required to explain the business interests of his spouse and close family members – to ensure that there are no commercial conflicts of interests that overlap his role as Chancellor.

In the latest register of ministers’ interests, Sunak declares that Murthy owns Catamaran Ventures. However, all of his personal financial interests are shielded by a ‘blind trust / blind management arrangement’ – a controversial mechanism that allows the corporate interests of ministers to remain hidden from public view.

Sunak also does not declare the investments that have been made by Catamaran – one of which is in the Indian e-commerce platform Udaan, according to the company’s website.

In 2018, Udaan received $225 million in investment from funds controlled by Yuri Milner and one other venture capital group.

Milner is a Moscow-born billionaire who reportedly started his venture capital career with help from Alisher Usmanov, the Uzbek-born metals magnate close to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In early March, following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the UK Government announced that it was sanctioning Usmanov – freezing his assets and banning him from travelling to the UK – following the example of the EU. Authorities in France and Germany have seized yachts owned by Usmanov, while he has called the sanctions “unfair” – adding that he would “use all legal means to protect my honour and reputation”.

As has been previously reported, the venture capital company founded by Milner – DST Global – acquired shares in Twitter in 2011, financed by the Kremlin-controlled VTB Bank. DST says that it divested from its position in Twitter in May 2014 – after which VTB was sanctioned by a range of international bodies for its role in Russia’s escalating aggression in Ukraine. These sanctions have been extended in recent weeks following Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, including an asset freeze imposed on VTB by the UK Government.

DST maintains that less than 3% of the total capital raised by the firm from its inception to 2022 was from VTB Bank, all prior to 2011, and that all such capital was fully returned by 2014. It also maintains that Alisher Usmanov’s last investment in DST funds was in 2011.

Milner has also sought to distance himself from the Putin regime in recent weeks – publishing a fact sheet on his website stating that he has not been to Russia since 2014, has no assets in Russia, and that 97% of his personal wealth was created outside Russia.

Furthermore, Milner appears to have backed a number of humanitarian efforts supporting the victims of the Ukraine war – with Milner and charities associated with him donating some $14 million to assist those fleeing the conflict.

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However, there will undoubtedly be further questions about whether the Chancellor and his family should be benefitting from a firm that has received investment from someone with links – albeit historical – to an individual close to Putin. And, moreover, why this connection has not been declared by Sunak since the onset of renewed hostilities in Ukraine.

For his part, Sunak is thought to be worth some £200 million, while Murthy is thought to be richer than the Queen. Her father is NR Narayana Murthy – an Indian billionaire businessman whose net worth was believed to be in excess of $4 billion, in October 2021.

By virtue of his lavish lifestyle, Sunak has repeatedly been dubbed the ‘Maharajah of the Yorkshire Dales’ by the tabloid newspapers – referencing his constituency in Richmond, North Yorkshire. A profile of the Chancellor in Tatler stated that he has augmented a property portfolio worth more than £10 million – including a £1.5 million Georgian manor in Yorkshire, two properties in London and one in California.

Meanwhile, thanks to mass inflation, an energy crisis and stagnant wages, British households are set to experience the biggest squeeze in living standards in 50 years in 2022.

The Treasury and Catamaran Ventures did not respond to Byline Times’ request for comment.

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