Rishi Sunak: Chancellor refers himself to ministerial watchdog amid row over wife’s tax status

The chancellor’s wife is estimated to have saved £20 million in taxes through her non-dom status

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Chancellor Rishi Sunak has referred himself to Boris Johnson’s independent adviser on ministerial interests amid questions over his family’s financial affairs.

In a letter to the Prime Minister, Sunak asked that Lord Geidt should review all his declarations of interest since he first became a minister in 2018 to ensure they had been properly stated.

Sunak said he was confident he had acted appropriately at all times, but his “overriding concern” was that the public should have confidence in the answers.

The move came after Labour warned that disclosures that his wife was non domiciled in the UK for tax purposes and that he still had a US green card when he became Chancellor raised potential conflicts of interest.

The Chancellor’s latest attempt to defuse the political storm that has engulfed him came after an announcement on Friday (8 April) by his wife, Akshata Murty, that she would pay UK taxes on all her worldwide income failed to stem the criticism.

Rishi Sunak was a favourite to replace to Boris Jonson as PM but his popularity has decreased this month Rishi Sunak was a favourite to replace to Boris Jonson as PM but his popularity has decreased this month
Rishi Sunak was a favourite to replace to Boris Jonson as PM but his popularity has decreased this month

In his letter requesting a review, Sunak said: “My overriding concern is that the public retain confidence in the answers that are given and I believe the best way of achieving this is to ensure those answers are entirely independent, without bias or favour.

“I am confident that such a review of my declarations will find all relevant information was appropriately declared.

“I have throughout my ministerial career followed the advice of officials regarding matters or propriety and disclosure and will continue to do so.”

The news comes after it emerged Sunak had ordered a full-scale investigation by the Cabinet Office and the Treasury into who leaked details of his wife’s tax status to the media.

It has been estimated that her non-dom status could have saved her £20 million in taxes on dividends from her shares in Infosys, an Indian IT company founded by her father.

Murty, is non-domiciled in the UK, which means that although she lives in the UK, her permanent home is recognised as being abroad - in Murty’s case her permanent home is in India.

Due to her non-dom status Murty, who is estimated to be richer than the Queen, pays tax on her UK earnings but does not have to pay taxes on her foreign income. She said on Friday that she would pay UK taxes on her worldwide income after the revelation that she was “non-domiciled” in the UK caused a political outcry.

Labour accused Sunak of hypocrisy, saying that while he raises taxes for millions of people in the UK, his family may be saving tens of millions of pounds through Murty’s non-dom status.

What is the leak inquiry looking for?

The main aim of the Whitehall investigation is to discover who leaked details of Murty’s tax status to The Independent, an online newspaper.

Sunak’s team believe the leak to have come from a Labour supporting official dubbed “red throat”.

A senior Government official was quoted by the Sunday Times as saying: “There’s going to be a full Cabinet Office and HM Treasury investigation into who had that information and if anyone has requested that information.

“Divulging the tax status of a private individual is a criminal offence.”

The inquiry is expected to investigate who were the keepers of the sensitive information, who had access to that information and who, if anyone, requested to see it.

There is potential for the investigation to lead to a criminal prosecution if the leak is found.

Akshata Murty has a 0.91% stake in Infosys, estimated to be worth £500 millionAkshata Murty has a 0.91% stake in Infosys, estimated to be worth £500 million
Akshata Murty has a 0.91% stake in Infosys, estimated to be worth £500 million

How much is Akshata Murty worth?

Murty is the daughter of N. R. Narayana Murthy, an Indian tech billionaire and founder of Infosys, in which Murty owns shares.

Her stake in the company is estimated to be worth around £500 million - this alone would make her wealthier than the Queen.

She also owns fashion label Akshata Designs and UK-based venture capital company Catamaran Ventures UK Ltd.

Sunak’s net worth is not certain, but he is recognised as the currently wealthiest British MP, and in March the Daily Express estimated his net worth to be £200 million.

How has the leak affected Rishi Sunak’s popularity?

Sunak’s approval ratings have continued to fall, and his chances of becoming the next Prime Minister have taken a hit.

During the partygate scandal in January this year, Sunak was seen as the front-runner to succeed Boris Johnson as Prime Minister in the event that he was ousted or resigned.

But, following the revelations about his wife’s tax status and that the chancellor himself held a US green card until last year, Sunak has been marred by controversy.

The chancellor has also been accused of failing to do enough to combat the ongoing cost of living crisis.

An Opinium Research poll found that Sunak’s approval rating dropped by three points since late March to 28%, while his disapproval rating rose by eight points to 43% giving him a net rating of -15.

A cabinet reshuffle which is expected in summer or autumn this year could see Sunak removed as chancellor.