The UK’s Opposition Labour Party has claimed Infosys was effectively granted “VIP access” after a media report alleged the software services major was promised help to grow in Britain due to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s familial connection with co-founder Narayana Murthy.
A Sunday Mirror report based on a freedom of information (FOI) request said Trade Minister Lord Dominic Johnson discussed the UK operations of Infosys during a meeting at the company’s offices in Bengaluru during a visit last April.
A readout of the meeting reportedly said Lord Johnson “made clear that he was keen to see a bigger Infosys presence in the UK and would be happy to do what he could to facilitate that”.
“After the Tories handed billions in taxpayers’ cash to cronies for duff PPE (personal protective equipment), the public will wonder why an outfit so personally close to Rishi Sunak appears to have been granted this VIP access. There are serious questions to answer,” Labour’s shadow minister Jonathan Ashworth told the newspaper.
Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty, has a 0.91 per cent stake valued at around GBP 500 million in the IT business co-founded by her father and received millions in dividends in the past financial year.
A “steering brief” for the meeting is reported to have said that it “would be good to reassure them on the prospects for the UK economy and remind them of the support that we can provide through DBT [Department for Business and Trade]”.
Lord Johnson is said to have outlined to the Infosys executives, whose names were redacted in the FOI documents, the advantages for the multinational as a result of the UK’s high-potential individual visa scheme.
“The investment minister regularly meets businesses and international investors, including a range of Indian businesses, to champion the UK as an investment destination and secure commitments worth billions of pounds. That engagement drives investment across the UK, creating thousands of high-quality jobs and boosting the UK economy,” said a DBT spokesperson.
Infosys has been approached for a reaction over these latest claims, coming in the wake of some Opposition murmurings around Infosys seeking visa benefits to accrue from the proposed India-UK free trade agreement (FTA).
The briefing paper for the April 2023 meeting reportedly notes that one of the objectives was to “reassure that the FTA will further create new opportunities and investor-friendly policies to support business growth”.
This is the latest Opposition attack faced by Sunak’s wife over her business interests after Labour raised questions over Akshata Murty’s decision to liquidate an investment venture named Catamaran Ventures.
The 43-year-old Indian businesswoman and daughter of Infosys co-founder Narayana Murthy had incorporated the venture in 2013 with her husband as one of the directors, before he resigned in 2015. It had emerged in a financial statement last year that she had decided to wind down her firm as a going concern.
The personal finances of Sunak and his wife have previously also been under scrutiny when it was revealed that Murty had legal non-domicile tax status, which meant she did not have to pay UK tax on her Indian income. However, after an Opposition furore over this issue, she had relinquished her non-dom tax status and said she would pay all her tax in the UK to prevent the issue becoming a distraction for her husband’s political career.