Boris Johnson ‘refused to be open’ with watchdog about hedge fund role | Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson was “evasive”, “avoided answering specific questions” and has “refused to be open” about his relationship with a hedge fund on whose behalf he met the Venezuelan president, a Whitehall watchdog has said.

Johnson met Nicolás Maduro in early February in a paid role as a consultant to Merlyn Advisors, according to reports. This raised questions for the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) which is responsible for providing advice on post-ministerial roles for two years after a minister leaves office.

But his failure to answer questions from the committee and its chair, the Conservative peer Eric Pickles, has led to Pickles criticising Johnson’s attitude to scrutiny in a letter to the deputy prime minister, Oliver Dowden, noting Johnson’s breach of the rules.

Johnson, who has previously been found in breach by Acoba over roles with the Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail, told Pickles that “all Acoba rules have been followed”.

Pickles told Dowden that the rules on post-ministerial roles “no longer have relevance in the modern world and are unenforceable”, calling on the government to make them “fit for purpose”.

He suggested new rules “would speed up assessment, remove unnecessary burdens on applicants and ensure that those who commit the most egregious breaches face up to the consequences of their actions”.

Correspondence published by Acoba reveals that Johnson sought advice from the committee in September 2023 regarding the role with the hedge fund to work as an independent contractor, providing “perspectives and insights to a range of the company’s domestic and international stakeholders”.

But when Acoba sought further information about the nature of the role, Johnson informed the committee he would not be taking up the role and withdrew his application.

In his letter to Dowden, Pickles said this previous application “increases the need for Mr Johnson to be candid with the committee”.

After the Sunday Times reported details of Johnson’s role as a consultant to Merlyn Advisors in March, civil servants working for Acoba sent him questions to answer. They asked him if the media reports of his meeting were accurate, what his relationship with Merlyn Advisors was, what work he had carried out for them, and the capacity in which he met Maduro.

Johnson said he was not paid for any meetings in Venezuela and was “extensively briefed by [the British ambassador] before the meeting and used the occasion to push for democracy human rights and the support of Ukraine”, adding that all the rules had been followed.

Pickles then wrote to Johnson in early April saying that his relationship with the hedge fund “remains ambiguous”. Pickles requested “a clear understanding of your relationship with the company and direct answers” to four questions.

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Johnson responded: “I believe it was clearly not necessary to consult or seek Acoba advice in advance of the meeting that you mention. As I have previously noted, the meeting was unpaid.”

He added: “As for your other questions, Acoba is fully aware of all my current contracts and employment obligations.”

This statement appears not to have addressed Pickles’s concern, who said that if Acoba was fully aware, “my last letter and earlier correspondence would have been unnecessary”. He said Johnson’s reply “lacked candour”.

A response from Dowden to Pickles has not yet been published.

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