Rishi Sunak’s wife is a shareholder in a restaurants business that funnelled cash through a company in the tax haven of Mauritius, potentially allowing it to avoid paying taxes in India.
International Market Management (IMM) is seeking to build a chain of dozens of restaurants across India, striking franchise agreements with celebrity chef Jamie Oliver and American fast food giant Wendy’s.
An investigation by the Guardian found that Akshata Murty, the chancellor’s wife, invested in IMM in 2014 – alongside several big names in UK hedge fund circles. She owns five per cent of the business.
Murty – who married the chancellor in 2009 – is the daughter of one of India’s richest men. Her father co-founded tech giant Infosys, and she has shares in the company worth £430 million – making her richer than the Queen.
After he became chief secretary to the Treasury in July 2019, Sunak revealed he was the beneficiary of a blind trust – meaning he can’t make decisions about how his money is invested, but can still profit from his investments.
However Sunak’s declarations make no mention of his wife beyond referring to her ownership of a small venture capital company.
But the paper revealed that Murty and her family hold a score of other valuable interests – including a £1.7 billion shareholding in Infosys, which employs thousands of UK staff and has held a number of government contracts.
IMM is a UK-registered company. But, instead of investing directly in two Indian subsidiaries that operate its restaurants, it funnelled money raised from shareholders through an intermediary firm in Mauritius, the Guardian found.
Tax campaigners have concluded that the complex arrangement – although legal – could help the firm reduce the taxes payable on any profits in India.
IMM’s chief executive Jasper Reid, who manages the venture from New Delhi, said: “This is a standard approach to companies investing in India and is nothing out of the ordinary.”
But campaign group Tax Justice Network said his statement was “not a justification, it’s a condemnation”.
Alex Cobham, the group’s chief executive, told the paper: “India needs its tax revenues for schools and hospitals.
“We must hope that the chancellor himself is committed to the progressive taxation of wealth and top incomes, or the UK will only see the deepening of the stark individual, racial, gender and regional inequalities that the pandemic has laid bare.”
The government’s ethics watchdog has been asked to assess whether Sunak broke the ministerial code by not declaring in the register of ministerial interests the multimillion-pound portfolio held by his wife and her family.