Ethics Vs Legality
Taking a break Edition 58
The Chief Brief is on Easter hiatus like many of you this week.
But if there was ever the temptation to write while on a break, it is on the story below!
Don’t argue legality when it comes to ethics
Akshata Murthy and her husband U.K. Chancellor Rishi Sunak provided so much fodder to us all about the battle between ethics Vs. legality this week.
To hold the second highest public office in a G7 country and to then complain about being questioned about a familial beneficiary of tax loopholes led to a messy week for Rishi and his wife. There was even some whinging comparison of the U.K. Chancellor feeling like Will Smith, and how we should all be grateful he didn’t punch someone on his wife’s behalf!
Let me put this into context for those of you who live blissfully unaware of the ridiculous nature of British politics nowadays. Hullabaloo about political spouses isn’t usually headline grabbing in the U.K. Spouses are usually off-limits. But when said spouse holds a different passport to the country she is resident of, and isn’t paying fully into the tax pot that her husband is making onerous for the general public — you can be sure somebody somewhere was rubbing their hands in glee. That is a leak made in heaven!
It also helps when said spouse of the Chancellor is the daughter of a tech billionaire, who was in tax hot water himself, just a year ago. That little tax scandal caused a break up between Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Akshata’s father, Indian tech giant Infosys’ founder Narayana Murthy. Akshata is a director of the VC firm, Catamaran Ventures at the center of that storm.
As we all know, once you start the mudslinging, life gets messy. The original leak about Akshata’s very legal but morally ambiguous non-dom status in the U.K, lead to her issuing a badly worded and grudging - I’ll pay up to shut you all up statement.
But that concession was followed by an avalanche of bad news (for the Sunaks) —Allegations of the Chancellor being a beneficiary of a tax haven trust in Akshata’s name, holding a U.S. green card while being Chancellor (means he wasn’t a resident of the country he was the finance minister of, and was filing taxes in another).
Then there were all those ridiculous arguments about “Indian nationality’ being the excuse for a non-dom status. It did make me giggle though. I had that very same option, but non-dom had nothing to do with my then, Indian passport. Or any passport. For 30,000 pounds per annum I could’ve signed up to that same program with the tax authorities (for another 3 years from today actually). But the ethics of playing that game while covering businesses who were avoiding tax just didn’t seem right. So, I gave up my option for being a non-dom. I still had that Indian passport when I made the call, as did so many people I know.
By playing that Indian passport card in a country with a lot of Indians, one thing’s been pretty obvious — the Sunak’s seem to have a lot of money but not very good advisors, especially on communications and optics! The way they’ve have handled these revelations have unfortunately smacked of privilege and a distinct disconnect between those with money to play the tax dodging game, while raising taxes on the electorate that’s being crushed by a cost of living crisis.
As everyone’s moving on from the ‘shock - horror’ of tax evasion at the U.K. Chancellery (finance ministry) the conspiracy theorists are out in full force speculating whether Prime Minister Boris Johnson threw Rishi under the bus, while managing a surprise walk-about in Kyiv in an attempt to make his #Partygate woes fade into oblivion. To clear that speculation up the leak of the tax arrangements is now under investigation.
If Akshata Murthy’s professional and inheritance income was not to be considered fair game in Rishi Sunak’s public life, it might have been more helpful if the couple had been upfront with the public from the very start.
Even better? If Akshata could have shown a prenup or a financial agreement that would’ve drawn a line in the sand of whether her husband is a beneficiary of her enormous wealth. It does take money and power to go from being an unknown hedge funder to the potential first U.K. Prime Minister of colour, after all.
Have a wonderful Easter break! I’ll see you on the other side!