The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is under mounting pressure over accusations that his wife, Akshata Murthy, is collecting “bloody money” in dividends from a family company that has refused to pull out of Russia, despite Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats are calling on Sunak to answer “very serious questions” over Murthy’s estimated $900m (£690m) stake in the IT services and consultancy company Infosys.
Infosys, which was founded by her billionaire father, NR Narayana Murthy, continues to operate in Russia while most big global IT and consultancy firms such as SAP, Oracle, PwC, McKinsey, Accenture and KPMG have all closed their Russian operations.
Sunak, who has repeatedly called on British companies to pull out of Russia in order to “inflict maximum economic pain” on Putin’s regime, refused to comment on his wife’s 0.91% stake in Infosys.
Asked by Sky News if his family was “potentially benefiting from Putin’s regime”, Sunak said: “I don’t think that’s the case. I am an elected politician and I am here to talk about what I am responsible for. My wife is not.”
A spokesperson for Sunak said neither Murthy nor any members of her family “have any involvement in the operational decisions of the company”. Murthy, who lives with Sunak and their two children at their townhouse in Kensington and Yorkshire manor house, has collected an estimated £11.5m in dividend payments from Infosys over the past year.
Lesia Vasylenko, a Ukrainian MP who has taken up arms to defend her country, said money paid out in dividends by any company operating in Russia should be viewed as “bloody money” that had “sponsor[ed] the army”.
Asked about Murthy’s holding in Infosys on LBC, Vasylenko said: “Any money that is put into the Russian economy in one way or the other, be it directly, be it through investment, be it through taxes … that money goes to sponsor the army … to buy the bullets that are killing Ukrainian children, Ukrainian women.
“Every company has the choice to make, you can run the business as usual and make your money, but you have to live with the fact it’s bloody money, and bloody trade.”
Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, told the BBC it was “really quite shocking” that it appeared that “Rishi Sunak’s family itself is benefiting from business in Russia … The chancellor has explicitly called on business to divest from Russia in order to inflict economic pain and ensure that the sanctions are as deeply felt as possible.”
The Liberal Democrat Treasury spokesperson, Christine Jardine, said Sunak “needs to come clean and declare any potential conflicts of interest”. “Openness and full transparency are key given the risks posed by financial connections to Russia,” she said. “The public deserves full transparency on this issue. It cannot be one rule for the chancellor and another for everyone else.”
In a statement, Infosys said it had “a small team of employees based out of Russia, that services some of our global clients, locally”. “We do not have any active business relationships with local Russian enterprises,” the company said, adding that it had committed $1m to help the victims of the war.
Infosys, which was founded by NR Narayana Murthy in 1981 and now has a market value of about $100bn, has strong historical links with Russia and Putin.
Murthy welcomed Putin on a tour of Infosys’ Bangalore campus in 2004, during which he said Putin’s “visit to India is an affirmation of the special relationship between our two countries”.
“As our bilateral relations expand in scope and depth, surely information technology will be one of the areas in which both countries can collaborate for talent and knowledge,” Murthy said.
Infosys has also provided IT and consultancy services for Alfa-Bank, which was last week added to the UK sanctions list.