India and the UK are trying to finish their long discussions for a trade deal by the end of this year. However, Britain’s Prime Minister Rishi Sunak might have a new problem related to a trade agreement after Brexit. This time, the issue involves his wife Akshata Murty, who is the daughter of NR Narayana Murthy, one of the co-founders of Infosys.
A report from The Guardian has pointed out that British lawmakers and trade experts are worried about “transparency problems” linked to his wife’s ownership of shares in Infosys, valued at GBP 481.2 million. These shares make up a significant portion of the Sunak family’s wealth.
In 2023, the Sunday Times rich list projected that the shares Akshata owns in Infosys would have generated approximately GBP 54 million in dividends. This income has contributed to boosting the Sunak family’s finances over the past seven years.
Members of the House of Commons Business and Trade Select Committee from different political parties have suggested that Infosys might gain advantages from the free-trade deal. They have also encouraged Sunak to be more transparent regarding his wife’s financial interests.
Sunak is scheduled to participate in the G20 summit in New Delhi this September. During this event, he is expected to have individual discussions with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, where they may talk about the free-trade agreement.
Darren Jones, who leads the business and trade select committee for the Labour Party, conveyed to The Guardian that proper declaration of interests is crucial, as even the prime minister has recognized recently. He anticipates that such declaration will also be made by the prime minister concerning the trade agreement with India.
Infosys has engaged in contracts with both the British government and various UK-based companies. Back in 2019, the technology company requested around 2,500 visas for the UK. This move was aimed at deploying its employees on outsourced IT contracts. The report from The Guardian pointed out that Infosys might seek enhanced entry opportunities for its contract workers in the UK. This could involve suggesting adjustments to the country’s visa policy.
Sunak has said that he will recuse himself from any decisions about the trade deal that could affect Infosys. However, some people have argued that this is not enough to avoid a conflict of interest. They say that Sunak is still in a position to influence the trade deal in a way that could benefit his wife’s financial interests.
Sunak has said that he has followed the Ministerial Code in this case. However, the potential conflict of interest has raised questions about his judgment. It has also damaged his reputation and made it more difficult for him to lead the UK’s negotiations with India.
Significantly, India has placed a significant request in the free-trade negotiations, particularly centered around securing increased immigration access for its workforce in the fields of IT and AI. Consequently, if a trade agreement is reached between India and the UK, it could potentially bring financial advantages to both the prominent IT company and Akshata, given her ownership stake.
Upon assuming office following the brief leadership of Liz Truss and the tumultuous time under Boris Johnson, Sunak had pledged to uphold values of “integrity, professionalism, and accountability” across all levels of governance.
In the past week, it came to light that Sunak violated the British Parliament’s code of conduct by not disclosing his wife’s ownership of shares in a childcare company that stood to gain extra funding from the government. After this incident, Sunak has now included this investment in the minister’s interests list. However, according to The Guardian’s report, he has not yet listed his wife’s shares in Infosys on the official ministerial interests register.
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