As published on theguardian.com, Monday 26 October, 2020.
The chancellor is under pressure to reveal where his multimillion-pound personal fortune is invested after suggestions that some of his wealth, which is managed by a so-called blind trust, could be held in offshore tax havens.
Opposition MPs and transparency campaigners on Monday called on Rishi Sunak to be “completely transparent” about where his wealth – earned over a career at the US investment bank Goldman Sachs and hedge funds – is invested in order to avoid potential conflicts of interest with his role running the UK economy.
Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “The truth with this trust is that the only people that are blind to it are the public. The chancellor only set up the trust 18 months ago but the public has no idea where the money is or whether there is a conflict of interest. With public trust in this government plummeting, greater transparency in all their dealings is essential and the chancellor must show a lead.”
Sunak registered a blind trust in July 2019 after he had been appointed chief secretary to the Treasury under the previous chancellor, Sajid Javid. Under a standard blind trust arrangement individuals can still receive income from their investments but cannot make decisions about how the money is invested.
The campaigners and MPs are concerned that Sunak will know where his money was invested before he placed it in the blind trust, and that raises concerns that his decisions as chancellor could be influenced by his personal stakeholdings.
The financial transparency campaigners have also called on the chancellor to be categorical on the question of whether any of his wealth is sheltered in offshore tax havens.
Abena Oppong-Asare, the shadow exchequer secretary to the Treasury, said: “Rishi Sunak needs to be completely transparent with the public about whether any of the funds he invested in a blind trust are held in offshore tax havens. Taxpayers paying their fair share expect nothing less.”
Sunak is the only chancellor to have used a blind trust since details of ministers’ interests began to be published in 2009. Seven serving ministers hold a blind trust, compared with 13 in 2015.
Richard Murphy, a visiting professor of accounting at Sheffield University management school and a self-described “tax justice campaigner”, said: “The problem with this arrangement is that the blindness is for the public. We literally know nothing.”
Daniel Beizsley of the financial transparency campaign group Spotlight on Corruption said: “The issue as I see it with Sunak is that unless the trustee was given specific instructions to diversify the portfolio, then Sunak is fully aware of its contents. It’s difficult to see how this could absolve him of conflict of interest claims. Additionally, by placing assets into the blind trust arrangement, the public’s ability to judge potential conflicts is reduced as his ministerial declaration is now empty.”
Sunak’s spokesperson refused to comment, but a Treasury source said: “Blind trusts/blind management arrangements are longstanding mechanisms for protecting ministers in the handling of their interests. They ensure ministers are not involved in any decisions on the management, acquisition or disposal of items in the arrangement.
“Politicians of all stripes have used blind trusts/blind management arrangements to ensure they avoid any conflict of interest, including the last Labour government.”