UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is facing pressure over his alleged relationship with the American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri during the time he served as the Mayor of London.
Johnson has been given 14 days to provide the details of the relationship after the Sunday Times reported that a company run by the tech entrepreneur received tens of thousands of pounds in public funding when Johnson was mayor.
The company also had access to overseas trade missions headed by the then mayor, according to the newspaper. The Sunday Times alleged Arcuri was given preferential treatment when it came to joining the missions, despite her business “not meeting the eligibility criteria for any of the three Johnson trade missions she attended in the space of just a year.”
The Oversight Committee of the Greater London Authority has asked Johnson to disclose details and a timeline of all contact with Arcuri during his 2008-16 mayoral term. They also want the PM to explain how that alleged personal relationship was disclosed at the time Arcuri was awarded the grants.
Arcuri and her company did not respond to CNN’s request for comment. She told the Sunday Times any grants received and any trade mission I joined were purely in respect of my role as a legitimate businesswoman.”
Downing Street declined to comment on the allegations. Johnson himself first dodged the topic, then suggested in a BBC interview everything was done “entirely in the proper way.”
The issue was even discussed in Parliament on Wednesday, when lawmakers forced an official from the government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to come into the debating chamber and answer questions about his agencies role in awarding Arcuri’s company their most recent public money.
Arcuri’s latest company, Hacker House, was awarded £100,000 ($123,000) funding earlier this year from the department. The company says it provides “practical ethical hacking skills” training online. The funding was part of a program aiming to increase the diversity and numbers of those working in the UK’s cyber security sector.
Questioned about a possible conflict of interest, Matt Warman, the undersecretary of state for digital, said all grants are awarded through transparent and competitive way. He added the company has been paid “some £47,000” to date.
“We are of course aware of the claims raised recently by The Sunday Times and the department is reviewing the decision that was taken,” he said.
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran alleged in Parliament that the funding was meant for businesses based in the UK, and added that Arcuri lives in the US.
Warman said the company’s location will be part of the review. “But it is a company with a British phone number,” he said, adding that Johnson was not involved in the decision to award the grant.
Moran also said the funding the company received was higher than what it was eligible for, saying the grant was set at maximum of 50% of a company’s income. Warman said the officials scored the application highly and “decided the other aspects more than outweighed that particular individual criteria.”
The company’s registered address in central London is a building that houses offices for rent, as well as “virtual offices,” a service that makes it possible for businesses to have a physical presence in London without any actual space or desks. It is not clear if Hacker House uses that service.
Hacker House was not immediately available to comment. The company did not respond to email and voice mail.