UK's Rishi Sunak cleared of breaching ministerial code over wife’s tax status

Prime minister's standards adviser ruled in chancellor's favour over conflict of interest allegations

British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. Reuters
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British Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak has been cleared of breaching the ministerial code by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s standards adviser after considering his and his family's tax affairs.

Ministerial interests adviser Lord Christopher Geidt also ruled in Mr Sunak’s favour over claims of conflict of interest relating to the chancellor having held a US permanent resident card.

Mr Sunak referred himself for investigation after it emerged that his wife, Akshata Murty, held non-domiciled tax status, exempting her from paying UK tax on overseas earnings.

Mr Geidt found two instances where Ms Murty’s tax status “could have given rise to a conflict of interest” for Mr Sunak.

But he found in the first instance the issue was properly declared, and in the second Mr Sunak assured that a Treasury change for some non-domiciled people did not affect his wife.

“I advise that the requirements of the ministerial code have been adhered to by the Chancellor, and that he has been assiduous in meeting his obligations and in engaging with this investigation," Mr Geidt advised Mr Johnson.

“In reaching these judgments, I am confined to the question of conflicts of interest and the requirements of the ministerial code.

“My role does not touch on any wider question of the merits of such interests or arrangements.”

The adviser said he did not believe Mr Sunak having held a US green card “would constitute an inherent conflict of interest”.

Mr Geidt said he asked the Treasury to search for any policy that would have affected holders of the card and Mr Sunak’s department responded with “no such evidence”.

He was satisfied that there is no conflict of interest over Mr Sunak’s blind investment trust after the chancellor assured he did not have “live knowledge” of the contents.

Mr Geidt was satisfied Ms Murty’s shareholding in Infosys, an Indian IT company founded by her father, was “properly declared” and that it held no Treasury contracts during her husband’s tenure.

Public records show Infosys received more than £50 million ($63m) in UK public sector contracts since 2015.

This month, Mr Johnson agreed to launch the investigation amid intense pressure on Mr Sunak over his family’s financial interests.

There had been speculation in Westminster that a Labour-leaning civil servant or rivals at Downing Street could have been behind the leaking of the confidential information.

On Wednesday, Mr Sunak insisted he did not believe allies of Mr Johnson were behind the leaks as he answered questions from users of the Mumsnet internet forum.

He was asked how he could have the “understanding and empathy about what it is like to struggle” by someone who said they “couldn’t imagine what it is like to live a life in your very privileged financial position”.

Mr Sunak said he hoped people “can judge me on my actions”, as he accepted that he was in a “fortunate position” but stressed his family emigrated to the UK “with very little”.

During the political storm, Ms Murty, who is an Indian citizen and is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of pounds, agreed to pay UK taxes on all of her worldwide income.

She is reported to hold a 0.91 per cent stake in Infosys and has received £11.6 million ($14.5m) in dividends from the Indian company in the past year.

“It was clear from the start that this report would be an utter whitewash. The Government announced the result of this inquiry before it had even started," said Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner.

“This report fails to answer the most basic questions and makes a mockery of our democracy. Downing Street has lost all ethical credibility.

“Now we know that the government was fully aware of the Chancellor’s tax-dodging tactics, but failed to inform the public or take any action.”

Updated: April 27, 2022, 8:35 PM