Everything to DeclareThe Conflicts of Interest Rishi Sunak Won’t Talk About
Despite promising ‘accountability’ and integrity, Sunak has failed to fully declare his extensive personal and familial financial interests, reports Adam Bienkov
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The announcement that Rishi Sunak is under investigation for failing to properly declare a personal financial interest, means that both the current Prime Minister, his predecessor Boris Johnson and his Deputy, Dominic Raab, are all now under simultaneous investigation for alleged parliamentary and ministerial rule-breaches.
While of the three cases, Sunak’s may appear to be the least serious, in reality it is potentially the most troubling. The Prime Minister’s failure to be fully open about his wife’s financial interest in a company his Government has just handed significant financial subsidies to raises serious questions about his own commitments to accountability and integrity.
Indeed, far from being a trivial breach of the rules, as his allies are now suggesting, this case is merely the latest example of the Prime Minister’s repeated habit of keeping his extensive personal and familial financial conflicts of interest away from public scrutiny.
First though, a little background.
Last month Sunak’s Government announced that it planned to hand £600 ‘incentive payments’ to new childminders joining the profession. However, for some reason the policy also stated that these incentives would double to £1,200 if people signed up through one of six private childcare agencies.
Asked at Parliament’s Liaison Committee, by Labour MP Catherine McKinnell why he had taken this decision, Sunak appeared to struggle. When asked whether he had any personal interests he needed to declare about the decision, he flatly denied having any.
“No all my disclosures are declared in the normal way,” Sunak told McKinnell.
In reality they had not been.
Within hours it emerged that Sunak’s own wife held shares in one of the agencies set to benefit from his decision. Not only this, but the bosses of the said agency had been personally invited into a Downing Street reception that took place just hours after the Prime Minister was questioned about it by MPs.
None of this had been declared by Sunak, either directly, or on his public register of interests.
Pressed by Byline Times three weeks ago why the PM had failed to make any such declarations, his Press Secretary insisted that he had followed the rules “to the letter”.
Here’s the full transcript of the exchange.
This claim looks very difficult to stand up, given that Sunak is now under investigation by Parliament’s Standards Commissioner for failing to properly declare his interests to MPs as he is required to under the Code of Conduct.
According to the relevant part of the code: “Members must always be open and frank in declaring any relevant interest in any proceeding of the House or its Committees, and in any communications with Ministers, Members, public officials or public office holders.”
It is hard to find a convincing case for Sunak having done this.
Since Sunak’s apparent conflict of interest was first revealed, Downing Street has sought to defend his apparent failure, by claiming that the PM had told the Cabinet Secretary instead. However, even if true, this is irrelevant given that such declarations were not public at the time he was questioned by MPs and given that his own spokespeople still refuse to say exactly when this declaration actually took place.
While this one case would be troubling enough in itself, it is just the latest example of Sunak’s repeated failure to be fully open about such potential conflicts.
Secret US Green Card
Questions about Sunak’s potential financial conflicts of interests first emerged last year after it was revealed that he had secretly held a US green card while he was an MP and while he was Chancellor. The arrangement, which required Sunak to privately declare himself a permanent resident of the US, raised serious questions about what other undeclared international interests the then chancellor may have had.
Offshore Tax Havens
These questions were heightened after the Independent revealed that he had also been listed as a beneficiary of tax haven trusts in the British Virgin Islands and the Cayman Islands. Sunak’s involvement in these trusts, set up to manage the financial affairs of his wife Akshata Murty, reportedly continued while he was Chancellor.
Questions about exactly such arrangements first emerged after he entered Boris Johnson’s Government and registered himself as the beneficiary of a “blind trust”. This arrangement meant that he was able to continue to benefit from his many outside interests, without having any further say in where they were invested. At the time he was put under pressure to disclose whether any of these interests were held in offshore tax havens, but did not do so.
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These questions resurfaced again last year when he was standing to become Prime Minister. Sunak initially promised to release his full tax returns once he entered Downing Street. However, Sunak sat on the promised details for months afterwards, until finally slipping them out last month on the same day as Boris Johnson’s headline-grabbing appearance at Parliament’s Standards Committee. However, despite Sunak’s promise of maximum transparency, the release put out by Downing Street contained no substantial additional information on where Sunak’s money had been invested, or on his US tax affairs.
Sunak’s wife’s financial affairs go well beyond her shares in one childcare agency. In fact so extensive are they that she has relied for some years on being listed as a ‘non Dom; for tax purposes in the UK. The arrangement, which again remained completely undeclared by Sunak until it was exposed by the Independent, has allowed her to avoid paying any UK taxes on her extensive overseas interests. While opposition parties have proposed closing this tax loophole, Sunak has so far resisted doing so.
Infosys and Russia
Sunak’s other big apparent conflict of interest over recent years has been his family business’ connection to Russia.
In the immediate aftermath of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine last year, the then Chancellor urged UK businesses to stop investing in the country, telling them that there was “no argument for new investment in the Russian economy.”
However, what he failed to declare at the time of his statement, was that while he was publicly telling other companies not to put their money into Russia, his own family continued to profit from its links to the country.
What Sunak failed to state to MPs is that his wife is the daughter of the Indian billionaire NR Narayana Murty, who founded the technology company Infosys.
Infosys has strong historic links to Russia and Narayana Murty has previously been pictured with Putin himself.
And despite initially insisting that Infosys would leave Moscow, it was still found to have an office in the country some eight months afterwards.