As one of the richest MPs in the House of Commons, questions about Rishi Sunak’s net worth have followed him around since he entered frontline politics in 2019.
The Prime Minister, whose family fortune has been listed in the latest Sunday Times Rich List, recently gave us a glimpse of his wealth when he published his tax returns. They showed he paid a relatively low tax rate despite having a large income - although his arrangements are legal. He has previously faced questions about why he held a US green card until he was well into his UK political career.
Sunak’s wife - Akshata Murty - has also faced uncomfortable questions about her finances. An heiress to a fortune worth billions, she has been at the centre of rows over her non dom tax status and links to Russia. The most recent scandal to hit the Sunaks involved Ms Murty’s shareholding in Koru Kids - a childcare company that may benefit from plans announced by Jeremy Hunt in the Spring Budget.
Rishi Sunak is now being investigated by Parliament’s standards watchdog over whether he has been transparent enough about his wife’s shareholding in the firm. Labour has previously attacked the PM for failing to close tax loopholes Ms Murty has benefited from.
But who is Akshata Murty - and why is she proving to be so controversial?
Who is Rishi Sunak’s wife?
Akshata Murty, 43, is a fashion designer and the daughter of an Indian billionaire. Born near Bangalore, India in 1980, Ms Murty’s parents N.R. Narayana and Sudha founded software firm Infosys.
Her father was the firm’s CEO from 1981 to 2002 and built it into a global empire worth billions of dollars. He has become known as the ‘Bill Gates of India’.
Ms Murty reportedly owns a 0.91% stake in the business, which has secured £50 million in UK public sector contracts since 2015. She also owns fashion label Akshata Designs and UK-based venture capital company Catamaran Ventures UK Ltd, which is used to service and store her personal wealth.
Sunak was a shareholder in this company but transferred his shares over to his wife before he became an MP in 2015. The pair married in 2009 having met while studying at top US university Stanford, California.
In March 2022, when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer under Boris Johnson, he said he found it “very upsetting” that his wife’s wealth was being scrutinised. After it emerged she held non dom tax status, Sunak said it was “unpleasant” to read about ‘attacks’ on his wife “especially when she hasn’t done anything wrong”.
He said Ms Murty held non dom status because she plans to move back to India one day to look after her parents - although it has been pointed out her citizenship has nothing to do with her tax status. At the time, Boris Johnson’s office was accused of leaking the information - a claim it denied.
What is Akshata Murty’s net worth?
Akshata Murty’s stake in Infosys was believed to be worth £500 million in 2022. It made up the bulk of her and her husband’s estimated net worth of £730 million in last year’s Sunday Times Rich List.
However, the newspaper now estimates that their wealth has fallen by £201 million to £529 million in 2023 as a result of a fall in Infosys’s share price. Her family firm’s stock has lost around 20% of its value over the last 12 months due to investor concerns about the state of the Indian tech industry.
Rishi Sunak has not mentioned most of his wife’s assets in his Parliamentary register of financial interests (a log that’s meant to ensure open democracy). Controversially, this included her significant shareholding in childcare firm Koru Kids, which benefitted from the Spring Budget 2023 (more below).
Sunak’s financial dealings are also controversial as he holds a blind trust - something he registered when he was appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 2019. This type of investment vehicle is used by politicians and executives to avoid conflicts of interest in their line of work.
It is meant to obscure the investments it makes money from so its beneficiary doesn’t know the source of the income. But there is scepticism about whether they can truly work this way.
Rishi Sunak childcare row explained
In the wake of the Spring Budget, the i reported that Rishi Sunak had a potential conflict of interest given his wife held shares in childcare provider Koru Kids as recently as March 2023 (according to the company’s most recent submission to Companies House). The company is one of six private agencies being consulted on Jeremy Hunt’s plans to boost free childcare.
One of the key pillars of the policy was an attempt to recruit more childminders, with those opting to take up a role at an agency receiving a golden hello that was double that offered to those doing so off their own bat (£1,200 compared to £600). It means firms like Koru Kids could stand to benefit from the scheme.
The PM was asked by Labour MP Catherine McKinnell at a select committee hearing in March whether he had any interests to declare about the policy. He replied: “No, all my disclosures are declared in the normal way.” However, he had not publicly declared his wife was a shareholder in Koru Kids - something he subsequently did when an updated register was published in April 2023.
An inquiry by Parliament’s standards watchdog is now being conducted, which will look at whether Sunak has properly declared the shareholding. MPs are required by Parliamentary rules to “always be open and frank in declaring any relevant interest”. Should Sunak be found to have failed to act in this manner, he may be forced to apologise to MPs in the House of Commons. It would also damage his moves to distance himself from the sleaze-ridden regime of his predecessor Boris Johnson.
Akshata Murty non dom tax row explained
In April 2022, allegations emerged in The Independent that Akshata Murty was benefitting from non-domicile tax status - a way of saving money on her UK tax bill.
Non dom status is optional for UK residents whose permanent residence is in another country, and permits them to not pay UK tax on their foreign income. Given Infosys is based in India, it means Ms Murty could have been saving millions of pounds in tax.
The Guardian reported her lucrative stake in the firm is worth £11.5 million per year and that Ms Murty may have saved up to £20 million on her UK tax bill by being a non dom. The UK tax rate on the kind of dividends she receives would be 39.35%, but India’s rate is much lower for non doms at 20% - or even 10% if certain terms are met.
While it is a legal practice, the morality of her decision to claim non dom status was questioned given she was living in Downing Street and married to a serving Chancellor. At the time, Labour pointed out that Sunak was putting up taxes for “millions of working families” while his family was saving on their own tax bill.
After intially pushing back against the calls for her to drop her non dom status, Ms Murty eventually announced she would pay UK tax on all of her income. She said she made the decision as she did not want her tax status to be a “distriction” for her husband. In a statement, she said she understood “the British sense of fairness” and had changed her mind “because I want to, not because the rules require me to”.
How was Akshata Murty linked to Russia?
Akshata Murty also courted controversy in March 2022 after Private Eye revealed her stake in Infosys and said that the firm had not closed its Russian office in the wake of the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Many businesses opted to pull their operations out of Russia soon after the war began, but Infosys continued to operate in Moscow for more than a month afterwards - a decision which appeared to contradict Rishi Sunak’s advice that firms should pull out of Russia.
When challenged about Infosys on Sky News, Sunak said: “I’m an elected politician and I’m here to talk to you about what I’m responsible for. My wife is not.” Infosys insisted in a statement given to the BBC that it did not have “any active business relationships with local Russian enterprises”. It added that it had kept “a small team” there until 1 April.