Why is Rishi Sunak being investigated?

The ethics committee is looking into Sunak's wife's financial interest in Koru Kids, which is set to benefit from new government childcare policies


What's happening? Rishi Sunak is being investigated by the Parliamentary ethics watchdog over allegations he failed to declare his wife's shares in a childcare business that potentially stood to benefit from a pilot scheme linked to last month's budget.

Billionaire heiress Akshata Murty, who married Sunak in 2009, holds a minority stake in childcare agency Koru Kids. The investigation relates to a verbal exchange on 28 March when Sunak was asked by a committee of MPs if he had any interest to declare on childcare.

Sunak said he did not. However, subsequent reports claimed the business Murty has shares in could benefit from a new childcare policy - prompting calls for the matter to be investigated.

The prime minister is reported to have sent a follow-up letter to the chair of the committee saying: “I would like to clarify for the Parliamentary record that this interest has rightly been declared to the Cabinet Office."

Yahoo News UK explains why the prime minister is under scrutiny and what the outcome could be...

Why is Sunak being investigated?

The ethics committee is looking into Sunak's wife's financial interests in Koru Kids, which is set to benefit from new government childcare policies introduced in the spring budget last month.

The watchdog is likely to focus the investigation on whether Sunak's follow-up declaration of interest to the Cabinet Office was sufficient, or whether he should have directly told MPs on the Commons liaison committee in March about his wife's shares in the company when directly asked if there was any potential conflict.

Sunak was quizzed by the committee over the government's childcare changes, including one pilot policy that sees a £600 incentive for new childcare workers double to £1,200 if those workers join via an agency. Koru Kids was one of six agencies involved in the scheme.

Asked by Labour MP Catherine McKinnell if he had any interests to declare, Sunak replied: “All my disclosures are declared in the normal way”.

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak delivers a speech about mathematics, on ending the
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said he had correctly declared his interests. (AFP via Getty Images)

Where do the claims originate from?

The potentially conflicting links between Sunak's wife and Koru Kids were originally reported in the i newspaper.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said Number 10 had been made aware of Sunak's interests, while insisting the interests were declared properly when they were registered with the Cabinet Office. However, it is unclear why the prime minister did not also make the declaration again when he was asked about it during the committee meeting.

“He has followed the process in terms of declaring his interests as set out in the ministerial code,” the spokesperson said at the time.

Since the announcement of the investigation, Number 10 has issued a statement clarifying "We are happy to assist the commissioner to clarify how this has been transparently declared as a ministerial interest.”

Murty's links to the company are expected to be included in the next list of ministerial interests, which has not been updated since May 2022.

ST AUSTELL, ENGLAND - FEBRAURY 9: Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak (R) and his wife Akshata Murty attend a parenting workshop during a visit to a family hub on February 9, 2023, in St Austell, Cornwall, England. (Photo by Ben Stanstall - WPA Pool/Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty, who has shares in a company that is set to benefit from childcare changes announced by the government. (Getty Images)

What is the possible punishment?

According to the website of the commissioner for standards, the investigation into Sunak falls under paragraph 6 of the MP's code of conduct, which reads: "Members must always be open and frank in declaring any relevant interest in any proceeding of the House or its committees, and in any communications with ministers, members, public officials or public office holders."

In the most serious cases where MPs are found to have fallen foul of the rules, a parliamentary suspension is possible - however, there is a long road to get to that point.

Should Sunak be found to have broken the rules, the ethics watchdog would refer the case to the Committee on Standards, which would be tasked with deciding on how best to tackle the matter.

The punishment could include anything from an apology all the way up to a Parliamentary suspension.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak leaves 10 Downing Street to attend Prime Minister's Questions and a vote on the Stormont brake mechanism of the Windsor Framework agreement in the House of Commons on 22 March 2023 in London, United Kingdom. Former Prime Minister Boris Johnson is also appearing before the House of Commons' Privileges Committee. (photo by Mark Kerrison/In Pictures via Getty Images)
Rishi Sunak is now the subject of a probe by the Commons ethics watchdog over whether he should have declared an interest during questions over childcare. Getty Images)

Who is Akshata Murty?

The 43-year old daughter of Indian tech billionaire Narayana Murthy met husband Sunak at Stanford University in the US, where she was studying for an MBA. They have two children together.

Murty owns shares in her father's company which are worth around £615 million, as well as in Koru Kids, Jamie Oliver's restaurant businesses, and Wendy's. She also heads up Indian venture capital fund Catamaran Ventures.

According to a Bloomberg report in 2022, Murty had a total net worth of £1.06bn. However, the Sunday Times Rich List 2022 places her and Sunak's combined net worth at £730m.

Murty made headlines last year after it emerged she had registered as a non-domicile for taxation purposes. Following a huge backlash, Murty said she would be changing her tax status.