An investigation into Boris Johnson’s dealings with an American model-turned tech entrepreneur suggests Britain’s prime minister gave the woman preferential treatment during his time as London mayor in potential breach of the government code of conduct. The Labour opposition has now picked up on the story and is demanding answers from Johnson.
“Boris Johnson must now give a full account of his actions in response to these grave and most serious allegations,” said Jon Trickett, a Labour MP and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office.
According to a recent exposé by The Times, Boris Johnson granted his purported close friend Jennifer Arcuri privileged access to several high-profile overseas trade missions. The woman is also said to have received a total of £126,000 ($157,000) in public funding for her tech projects.
Jennifer Arcuri, 34, had grown up in the United States and pursued a career in modelling before moving to London seven years ago. It is understood that she met Johnson in 2012 when she joined his re-election campaign for the highest office in London.
The same year, she founded her first company, called Innotech, which arranged networking summits connecting London’s technology start-ups with policymakers and politicians.
In a photo Arcuri posted to Facebook in May 2012, she was pictures speaking with Johnson on the campaign bus. “This was the day Innotech was born,” she wrote under the picture.
Johnson helped her business start off by visiting Innotech events as a guest speaker. A number of photos from Arcuri’s Facebook profile show Johnson in attendance at Innotech meetings in 2012 and 2013. Arcuri also posted numerous photos from other events where Johnson was speaking, many expressing her excitement and support for the then mayor of London.
Business Trips and Cash
The mayor’s promotional agency, L&P, reportedly gave Innotech £10,000 in sponsorship cash in October 2013 and a further £1,500 the following summer. There is no word on whether Johnson had influenced the decisions, although he was responsible for the agency at the time.
Arcuri also accompanied Johnson on his trade missions to Southeast Asia, New York and Tel Aviv in 2014-2015. It is claimed that her applications would either fail to meet the selection criteria or simply were turned down, but in at least two cases Arcuri was let join the mayoral delegations after L&P intervened and told the panel selecting the delegates that she had Johnson’s approval.
Innotech and Arcuri's other venture, cybersecurity firm Hacker House, owed more than £1 million ($1.25 million) between them, according to the latest accounts, seen by The Times.
Hacker House reportedly received a $125,000 grant in January from Johnson’s former ministerial colleague, Margot James, at the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
The funds were given under a programme that invests money in UK-based training initiatives to counter cyberattacks. The firm is based at Arcuri’s home near Los Angeles, the report claims, but Arcuri supplied an English address when applying for the grant – which turned out to be a property she once rented but that currently has no connection to Hacker House. The grant is now being investigated.
A Conflict of Interest?
If the suggestion that Johnson had given Arcuri preferential treatment is confirmed, he may be found in breach of the governmental code of conduct, which obliges public servants to declare any private interests relating to their public duties and to take steps to resolve potential conflicts of interest. It also bars ministers from providing undue benefits to friends.
The Times reports, citing unnamed sources, that Johnson visited Arcuri multiple times at her apartment in east London. The building owner told the newspaper that Arcuri confirmed that Johnson had visited the apartment “many times” and described the politician as “one of her best friends”.
“Any grants received by my companies and any trade mission I joined were purely in respect of my role as a legitimate businesswoman,” Arcuri, who has apparently relocated to the United States, according to her Twitter profile, said in a statement. “I am incredibly disappointed that The Sunday Times cannot write about a successful female entrepreneur without smearing her with innuendo based on leaks from City Hall.”
Boris Johnson is yet to comment.