Boris Johnson should have declared ‘close association’ with Jennifer Arcuri but avoids criminal investigation

London Assembly to resume inquiry into integrity of Johnson’s actions as mayor

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 21 May 2020 13:10 BST
Jennifer Arcuri admits she feels 'betrayed' by Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson may have breached standards for behaviour in public life through his relationship with US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri, a police watchdog has found.

His connection with Ms Arcuri when he was mayor of London may have been “intimate”, the Independent Office for Police Conduct said.

But the watchdog said it would not launch an investigation into alleged misconduct in public life by Mr Johnson over the awarding of public money to Arcuri’s companies, as well as her inclusion on trips abroad attended by the then-mayor.

Following a nine-month inquiry, the IOPC found that the prime minister would have been “wise” to declare a conflict of interest. It said the failure to do so could have constituted a breach of the so-called Nolan principles on the conduct expected from public servants, which include integrity, selflessness, openness and honesty.

Mr Johnson now faces a renewed inquiry into his conduct by the London Assembly, which scrutinises the actions of the mayor. The inquiry was suspended while the IOPC considered the case.

The IOPC investigation, codenamed Operation Lansdowne, found there was “a close association” between the then-mayor and the businesswoman – in her 20s at the time – and that they “may have been in an intimate relationship” during the relevant period.

The watchdog called on the Greater London Authority, which comprises the London Assembly, to consider rewriting its code of conduct. As it stood during Mr Johnson’s time in office from 2008-16, the code did not require him to include Ms Arcuri’s businesses in his own register of interests even if their relationship was intimate.

A spokesperson for the prime minister said: “We welcome the fact that this politically motivated complaint has been thrown out. Such vexatious claims of impropriety in office were untrue and unfounded.

“An independent review by the Government Internal Audit Agency similarly showed the claims made by the Labour Party were false. This was not a policing matter, and we consider this was a waste of police time.”

Mr Johnson was formally referred to the police watchdog in September over public money and access to trade trips granted to Ms Arcuri when he was at City Hall.

The businesswoman, whose flat Mr Johnson visited, was awarded thousands of pounds of taxpayers’ money, including £11,500 by the mayor’s promotional agency, London & Partners.

Mr Johnson’s office also intervened to give her a place on trade missions to New York and Israel with the mayor, after she was initially turned down for failing to meet criteria.

The IOPC was asked to investigate because of Mr Johnson’s responsibility for the Metropolitan Police while mayor.

Boris Johnson with Jennifer Arcuri at the World Islamic Economic Forum in 2014
Boris Johnson with Jennifer Arcuri at the World Islamic Economic Forum in 2014 (Innotech Network)

In a statement, the watchdog said it had reviewed nearly 900 documents, including eight years of relevant emails. It also interviewed and took statements from a number of witnesses in the UK and abroad.

IOPC director general Michael Lockwood said: “The IOPC completed a thorough, independent and impartial assessment to determine if there were reasonable grounds to suspect the criminal offence of misconduct in public office had occurred.

“We found no evidence to indicate that Mr Johnson influenced the payment of any sponsorship monies to Ms Arcuri or that he influenced or played an active part in securing her participation in trade missions.”

But he added: “There was evidence to suggest that those officers making decisions about sponsorship monies and attendance on trade missions thought that there was a close relationship between Mr Johnson and Ms Arcuri, and this influenced their decision-making.”

Len Duvall, the Greater London Authority’s oversight committee chair, said: “The IOPC was looking specifically at whether he committed a criminal offence. That’s not our remit and their decision doesn’t have any real bearing on our investigation, which will focus on his conduct as mayor of London.

“Everyone who holds public office, whether you’re the mayor of London, or indeed the prime minister, is expected to adhere to the principles of public life – including integrity, selflessness, openness and honesty, to name a few.

“Our investigation will consider whether Boris Johnson conducted himself in a way that’s expected from anyone in that position. It’s important we get those answers, because Londoners deserve to have their politicians held accountable.

“The oversight committee will take into account the current emergency when looking at the timetable for the investigation.”

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