No10 denies Rishi Sunak broke rules by failing to mention his billionaire heiress wife Akshata Murty’s shareholding in a childcare business when PM was quizzed about his £4billion boost for sector
- PM did not declare Akshata Murty’s shares in Koru Kids when quizzed by MPs
Downing Street today denied Rishi Sunak had broken any rules by failing to mention his wife Akshata Murty’s shareholding in a childcare business.
The Prime Minister did not declare Ms Murty’s investment in Koru Kids when he was quizzed about his £4billion boost for the childcare sector at this month’s Budget.
She is listed as a shareholder in the London-based agency in Companies House documents as recently as 6 March this year.
Koru Kids is set to benefit from the major shake-up of the childcare sector by Mr Sunak and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.
The PM’s failure to notify MPs of his wife’s interest has led to demands for Mr Sunak’s ethics adviser, Sir Laurie Magnus, to launch an investigation.
But No10 this afternoon dismissed any suggestion the PM had breached ministerial or parliamentary rules in neglecting to mention Ms Murty’s shareholding.
Who is Akshata Murty?
The Prime Minister’s wife is the daughter of billionaire Indian IT mogul, Narayana Murthy.
Akshata, 42, married Rishi Sunak in 2009 at a lavish ceremony in Bengaluru, India.
The couple had met while both studying at Stanford University in California.
During their early years together, Akshata pursued a career in fashion and set up her own business in 2007, Akshata Designs.
Her wealth comes predominantly from the 0.93 per cent stake she holds in her father’s firm, Infosys.
She and Mr Sunak also set up their own investment firm called Catamaran Ventures.
When he became PM in October, Mr Sunak and his wife decided to move themselves – as well as their two daughters, Krishna, 11, and Anoushka, nine – into the flat above No10 where they had previously lived when he was Chancellor.
This is different from previous PMs who, in recent times, have usually lived in the larger flat above No11.
Explaining their choice of residence, the PM’s press secretary said the family were ‘very happy there’ during Mr Sunak’s time as Treasury chief.
The PM’s wife has become an increasingly prominent presence during Mr Sunak’s political career.
In April last year, she was forced to admit she held non-dom tax status in the UK in a row that threatened to derail her husband’s ambitions.
But the couple survived the fierce scrutiny over their financial affairs and Ms Murty is now taking on a ‘First Lady’ role as the PM’s wife.
As well as a five-bedroom Kensington mews house worth an estimated £7million, Ms Murty and Mr Sunak also own another west London flat, a £2million manor house in Mr Sunak’s Yorkshire constituency, and a £5.5million penthouse in Santa Monica, California.
The PM’s press secretary said: ‘The Ministerial Code sets out a process by which ministers declare their interests.
‘They do that in writing, in this case to the Cabinet Secretary. That process was followed to the letter by the Prime Minister.’
She added: ‘He declared the interest in the usual way – he followed the process.’
The PM’s press secretary insisted Mr Sunak was also happy he had abided by Parliamentary obligations on declaring financial interests when answering questions from fellow MPs.
Ms Murty’s shareholding in Koru Kids emerged after the PM was yesterday quizzed by senior MPs on the House of Commons’ Liaison Committee about the Government’s new childcare package.
At the recent Budget, Mr Hunt announced a pilot of incentive payments of £600 for childminders joining the profession, a sum that doubles to £1,200 if they sign up through an agency.
Labour MP Catherine McKinnell on Tuesday questioned Mr Sunak as to why the Budget was handing out a double bonus for childminders signing up through private agencies.
Asked by Ms McKinnell if he had any interest to declare, Mr Sunak replied: ‘No, all my disclosures are declared in the normal way.’
He added the policy was ‘designed in consultation with the sector’.
‘I think it’s a reflection of the fact that they are through intermediaries so there are additional costs,’ Mr Sunak said of the payments for private agencies.
‘And, ultimately, we want to make sure the policy is effective in bringing additional people into the system.’
Mr Sunak added he would ‘happily write back’ to the committee on ‘exactly what conversations were had and the rationale’.
Koru Kids is one of six childminder agencies listed on the Government’s website.
The firm welcomed the Budget announcement on its website and hailed the ‘great’ new incentives open to childminders’.
It said a bonus of ‘£1,200 – yes double’ would be paid ‘if you come through an agency like Koru Kids who offer community, training and ongoing support’.
Liberal Democrat chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: ‘There are serious questions for Rishi Sunak to answer over any potential conflict of interest, and any extra income his family could receive from his own Government’s policy.
‘Too often we have seen Conservative sleaze run amok. The public must be reassured that any breach of the Ministerial Code by the PM will be fully investigated.’
The most recent register of ministerial interests only notes that Ms Murty owns a venture capital investment company known as Catamaran Ventures UK.
But there has been no update to the register of ministerial interests since May last year, since when there have been a raft of changes in Government ranks including the departure of Boris Johnson and then Liz Truss as prime minister.
Ministers are expected to provide a written list of all financial interests that might ‘give rise to a conflict’.
The ‘interests of their spouse, partner or close family members’ are included in the information expected to be handed over.
But they may not appear on the finished list if there is deemed not to be an issue.
It is not the first time the financial affairs of Ms Murty, the daughter of billionaire Indian IT mogul, Narayana Murthy, have caused embarrassment for Mr Sunak.
He faced a bitter row last year when it emerged Ms Murty held non-dom tax status.
Last month it was revealed Ms Murty held shares in a collapsed firm that received nearly £300,000 in taxpayer-funded loans under schemes set up by Mr Sunak when he was Chancellor.