BBC in crisis as pressure builds on chairman Richard Sharp who ‘helped arrange guarantee on £800,000 loan to fund Boris Johnson’s lifestyle before the then Prime Minister recommended him for the role’
- Mr Sharp is said to have been involved in the PM’s finances from November 2020
- He was announced as chairman in January after Boris Johnson supported him
The chairman of the BBC helped Boris Johnson secure a loan of £800,000 while he was Prime Minister just weeks before he was then recommended by the PM for the job, it has been revealed today.
Richard Sharp, 66, a former banker at Goldman Sachs, is a long-established donor to the Conservative Party and became involved in crucial talks from November 2020 which discussed how Mr Johnson could continue to afford his lavish lifestyle, The Times reports.
Mr Sharp had already submitted his application for the BBC role and had reached the final stages of the recruitment process when he became involved in the issue while at the home of friend Sam Blyth in west London.
Mr Blyth – a Canadian businessman said to be worth at least $50 million (£41 million) and a distant cousin of Mr Johnson – is said to have discussed being a guarantor on the loan and asked for Mr Sharp’s financial advice.
Richard Sharp, 66, a former banker at Goldman Sachs, is a long-established donor to the Conservative Party
Before the loan was finalised, the PM invited Mr Sharp and Mr Blyth for a private dinner at Chequers, where they reportedly ate chop suey and drank wine
Late in 2020 the PM, 58, was reportedly in financial trouble with divorce payments, childcare costs and bills for the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat.
After Mr Sharp reportedly agreed to help, he is said to have met with Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service at Simon Case at Downing Street at the beginning of December 2020.
He then later introduced the Cabinet Secretary to Mr Blyth, The Times reports.
During the pandemic Mr Sharp was also a Covid-19 economics adviser to Rishi Sunak, then chancellor.
Before the loan was finalised, the PM allegedly invited Mr Sharp and Mr Blyth for a private dinner at Chequers, where they ate chop suey and drank wine – but all three are said to deny that Mr Johnson’s finances were discussed there.
Just a few weeks later Mr Johnson had selected Mr Sharp as his preferred candidate to become the new BBC chairman, a role which pays £160,000 per year.
The Cabinet Office propriety and ethics team then had to write a formal letter to the PM to tell him to stop taking advice from Mr Sharp about his personal finances, The Times reports.
A matter of days later Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden announced that Mr Sharp was the government’s choice for the role on January 6, 2021.
Mr Sharp told the paper that he did ‘connect’ Mr Blyth and Mr Case but insisted there was ‘no conflict of interest’.
Mr Johnson’s spokesperson said the former PM had declared his interests correctly and, when asked about the Chequers dinner, replied: ‘So what? Big deal.’
A spokesperson for the BBC told MailOnline: ‘The BBC plays no role in the recruitment of the Chair and any questions are a matter for the Government.’
Representatives for Boris Johnson have been contacted for comment.
Anyone can apply for the role of BBC chairman and the job is decided by the PM and Culture Secretary, with the advice of four members of a panel.
The recruitment process must be ‘fair and open’, but the government can re-run the process if they are unhappy with the shortlisted candidates.
The job application form states: ‘You cannot be considered for a public appointment if … you fail to declare any conflict of interest.’
It also instructs candidates to report ‘any issues in your personal or professional history that could, if you were appointed, be misconstrued, cause embarrassment, or cause public confidence in the appointment to be jeopardised’.
Meanwhile the ministerial code states: ‘Ministers must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests, financial or otherwise.’
According to the Times, Mr Johnson never disclosed his involvement with Mr Sharp in the MPs’ register of interests and also left it out when declaring his ministerial interests.
It is not the first time that Mr Sharp and his finances have been under public scrutiny since he was pipped to become the next BBC chair
Mr Johnson never disclosed his involvement with Mr Sharp in the MPs’ register of interests and also left it out when declaring his ministerial interests
It is not the first time that Mr Sharp and his finances have been under public scrutiny since he was pipped to become the next BBC chair.
In August, it was reported that Mr Sharp invested in a crypto business founded by a now sanction-hit Russian oligarch through an offshore Cayman Islands company.
The multi-millionaire ex-banker was an early investor in Vladimir Potanin’s business Atomyze – which trades commodities using blockchain technology.
Potanin, who was once considered Russia’s richest man was sanctioned by the UK government in June for supporting Putin’s regime.
Known as the ‘Nickel King’, Potanin runs the Nornickel company, which dominates the global market for nickel and has its metals traded on Atomyze.
Mr Sharp invested in the Russian’s crypto business in 2019 through a Cayman Islands company called ABCP GP Ltd, according to The Guardian.
A spokesperson for Sharp’s investment trust told The Guardian that no sanctions had been imposed on Potanin when Sharp invested in the oligarch’s company, which is regulated by the Swiss authorities.
The spokesperson said Sharp put his investments in a blind trust in May 2020 after being hired as a Treasury adviser by the then chancellor, Sunak.
They said: ‘The arrangement was maintained after Sharp became chairman of the BBC. This blind trust has professionally managed the ABCP GP Ltd and Atomyze Switzerland interests with complete independence from Mr Sharp and at the trust’s sole discretion since its establishment.
‘At the current time, the blind trust, and therefore Mr Sharp, have no financial or directorial interests in any businesses owned and controlled by Mr Potanin.’
Mr Sharp has also donated approximately £400,000 to the Conservative Party in the past 20 years, plus £2,500 around the time of the last general election.
It is claimed Mr Sharp discussed his plan to apply for the role of BBC Chairman with Mr Johnson privately, drawing on their long-standing friendship.
The ex-PM is said to have finalised the loan in February 2021, the same month in which Mr Sharp began his new role – for which he had ‘no editorial experience’.
Mr Johnson’s loan was not disclosed on any public register, reportedly because officials believed it was a personal bonus due to the guarantor being a distance cousin.
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