UK

BBC chairman asks for review into his job after claims he helped Boris Johnson secure loan

BBC chairman Richard Sharp has asked for a review into potential conflicts of interest following reports he helped Boris Johnson secure a loan.

Mr Sharp said that while the appointment of the chairman is “solely a matter for the government”, he wants to ensure that “all appropriate guidelines have been followed within the BBC since I have joined”.

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“We have many challenges at the BBC and I know that distractions such as this are not welcome,” he said in a statement read out on BBC News.

The Sunday Times reported Mr Sharp was involved in arranging a guarantor on a loan of up to £800,000 for Mr Johnson in late 2020, and that the then-prime minister went on to recommend him for the top job at the BBC.

A spokesperson for Mr Johnson called the report “rubbish” while both sides denied a conflict of interest.

The review will look at any conflicts of interest since Mr Sharp joined the BBC, and not his role in Mr Johnson’s loan.

But in a letter to BBC staff, Mr Sharp clarified some of the details surrounding his involvement.

He confirmed he introduced multimillionaire Canadian businessman Sam Blyth to cabinet secretary Simon Case “as Sam wanted to support Boris Johnson”.

“I was not involved in making a loan, or arranging a guarantee, and I did not arrange any financing. What I did do was to seek an introduction of Sam Blyth to the relevant official in government,” he said.

“Sam Blyth, who I have known for more than forty years, lives in London and having become aware of the financial pressures on the then-prime minister, and being a successful entrepreneur, he told me he wanted to explore whether he could assist.”

Mr Blyth is a distance cousin of Mr Johnson’s.

The statement was released moments after Mr Johnson said that Mr Sharp “knows absolutely nothing about my personal finances”.

Boris Johnson doorstep

Speaking to Sky News he said: “This is a load of complete nonsense – absolute nonsense.

“Let me just tell you, Richard Sharp is a great and wise man but he knows absolutely nothing about my personal finances – I can tell you that for 100% ding-dang sure.

“This is just another example of the BBC disappearing up its own fundament.”

The BBC reported that Mr Sharp “has agreed with the board’s senior independent director” that the nominations committee will look at conflicts of interest when it next meets and, “in the interests of transparency, publish the conclusions”.

Timeline

November 2020:
According to the Sunday Times the loan guarantee was first suggested by Canadian millionaire Sam Blyth during a dinner with Richard Sharp.

Early December 2020:
In early December, Richard Sharp put Sam Blyth in contact with the Cabinet Secretary, Simon Case.

Late 2020:
Before the end of the year, Richard Sharp and Sam Blyth met with Boris Johnson for dinner at his country residence, Chequers. They insist the prime minister’s finances were not discussed.

January 2021:
At the start of January, the government announced Richard Sharp as the preferred candidate to be BBC chairman.

It comes after Labour called for an independent investigation into the process for appointing the chair of the BBC.

The party has also reported Mr Johnson to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, saying the former prime minister’s financial affairs are “dragging the Conservative Party deeper into yet another quagmire of sleaze”.

The Cabinet Office has insisted Mr Sharp was appointed “following a rigorous appointments process”.

This included assessment by a panel of experts and “additional pre-appointment scrutiny by a House of Commons Select Committee”, according to a statement released yesterday.

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