Rishi Sunak has become the third UK Prime Minister in seven weeks following the resignation of Liz Truss.
While Sunak did not speak publicly during the brief Conservative Party leadership campaign, he has previously insisted he would govern with integrity should he be made PM. But Sunak faces major questions about his conduct in office after revelations about his tax affairs and residency status while Chancellor of the Exchequer.
His family’s vast fortune has also come in for scrutiny. At the same time as he faced major criticism for his handling of the cost of living crisis, it emerged his wife Akshata Murty held non-dom tax status and had links to Russia. But how did she get so rich - and why did her tax affairs become so controversial?
Who is Akshata Murty?
Akshata Murty, 42, is a fashion designer who is Rishi Sunak’s wife and the daughter of an Indian billionaire. Her wealth and Sunak’s former career in banking means he is potentially the wealthiest MP in Parliament. The pair married in 2009 having met while studying at top US university Stanford, California.
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.
Speaking to the BBC in March, he said he found it “very upsetting” that his wife’s wealth was coming under scrutiny and compared his situation to that of the actor Will Smith, who slapped Chris Rock at The Oscars. After it emerged she had non dom tax status, Sunak said it was “unpleasant” to read about ‘attacks’ on his wife “especially when she hasn’t done anything wrong” and blamed Labour for “awful” smears against his family.
He said Ms Murty held non dom status because she plans to move back to India to look after her aging parents - although it has been pointed out her citizenship has nothing to do with her tax status. But The Daily Telegraph quoted allies of Sunak blaming Boris Johnson’s 10 Downing Street operation for the leaks about Akshata Murty’s tax status - claims the then-PM’s office denied.
What is Akshata Murty’s net worth?
Akshata Murty’s stake in Infosys is believed to be worth £500 million, meaning she’s likely to be richer than the King Charles. Rishi Sunak has not mentioned this stake or most of his wife’s other assets in his register of financial interests - a Parliamentary information resource intended to ensure open democracy. Ms Murty’s family also runs a £900 million joint venture with Amazon in India - although it’s unclear whether she has any share in it.
Rishi Sunak’s exact net worth is unknown, but the former Chancellor was said in the Sunday Times Rich List to have a joint-fortune of £730 million with his wife.
When he was appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury in 2019, he registered a blind trust - an investment vehicle that’s intended to allow its holder to avoid conflicts of interest by obscuring the source of the money it makes from investments. Sunak has repeatedly come under pressure from MPs to reveal the contents of this trust over concerns some of the money could be held offshore - i.e. away from the UK’s tax coffers.
What is Akshata Murty’s non dom status?
Allegations emerged in The Independent on 6 April that Akshata Murty benefits 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 be 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 while living in Downing Street and being married to a serving Chancellor was questioned. Labour called on Sunak to “urgently explain how much he and his family have saved on their own tax bill at the same time he was putting taxes up for millions of working families”.
Ms Murty’s spokesperson said: “Akshata Murty is a citizen of India, the country of her birth and parents’ home. India does not allow its citizens to hold the citizenship of another country simultaneously. She has always and will continue to pay UK taxes on all her UK income.” Ms Murty pays a levy of £30,000 a year to the UK Government to keep her non dom status, her spokesperson confirmed.
The tax status will automatically cease once she has resided in Britain for 15 years, with her set to reach that milestone in 2028. However, Ms Murty has now announced that she will pay tax in the UK on her worldwide income. She said that she took the decision as she did not want her tax status to be a “distriction” for her husband.
In a statement, Ms Murty said: “I understand and appreciate the British sense of fairness and I do not wish my tax status to be a distraction for my husband or to affect my family. For this reason, I will no longer be claiming the remittance basis for tax. This means I will now pay UK tax on an arising basis on all my worldwide income, including dividends and capital gains, wherever in the world that income arises. I do this because I want to, not because the rules require me to.”
How was Akshata Murty linked to Russia?
Akshata Murty was initially thrust into the spotlight 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.
It led to allegations that Ms Murty and her husband had been benefitting from Vladimir Putin’s regime - claims Sunak denied in an interview with Sky News. When asked if his wife’s continued shareholding in Infosys flew in the face of his advice to businesses, 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.”
When the then-Chancellor was pushed on whether it could be said that his family was benefitting from its ties with Russia, he replied: “No, I really don’t think that’s the case.” Sunak said Infosys’ operational decisions were “up to them” and added that he had “absolutely no idea” about how Infosys had responded to sanctions against Russia given he has “nothing to do with that company”.
Infosys insisted in a statement given to the BBC that it did not have “any active business relationships with local Russian enterprises” while it continued to operate in Russia. It added that it had kept “a small team” there until 1 April.