Richard Sharp has said there was “no conflict of interest” over his role in helping Boris Johnson secure a loan before being appointed BBC chairman.
He said he is confident he was given the job “on merit” after an investigation was launched into his hiring.
The BBC is also reporting that Mr Sharp has no plans to stand down despite scrutiny of his appointment.
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The former banker has confirmed he introduced his close friend Sam Blyth to cabinet secretary Simon Case in late 2020, to discuss whether Mr Blyth could act as a guarantor for a loan facility for Mr Johnson.
The talks took place while Mr Johnson was still prime minister, and while Mr Sharp was in the process of applying to be BBC chair.
In an interview with the broadcaster today, Mr Sharp said that a decision was made by Mr Case that there was no conflict of interest, nor the perception of one.
He said: “Having had a discussion with the cabinet secretary about avoiding a conflict – and the perception of conflict – I felt comfortable and I still feel there was no conflict because at that stage what I was seeking to do was to ensure the process was followed exactly by the book, and that the process hadn’t started, of any kind, in terms of any support that Sam [Blyth] was going to provide to the prime minister.”
Mr Blyth is a multimillionaire Canadian businessman and distant relative of Mr Johnson.
The Sunday Times reported he ended up being a guarantor of a loan of £800,000 to the former PM, who oversaw Mr Sharp’s appointment.
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.
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.
At the start of January, the government announced Richard Sharp as the preferred candidate to be BBC chairman.
Asked if he thought he had misled a parliamentary committee or the advisory panel which picked him, Mr Sharp said: “No, I don’t.”
He added: “I had clarified and agreed with the cabinet secretary, both of us had the judgement that I’d avoided a conflict or a perception of conflict.”
Pressed on whether the row was an issue at a time when the BBC is making efforts to be impartial and highlight transparency, Mr Sharp told his own news channel: “Well look I see attacks on the BBC all the time, from the media, and for example social media, and they attack our impartiality.
“And I think the governance we put in place is extremely strong on impartiality and I’ll be talking about it later today, precisely because we should be judged by our output.”
The BBC is reviewing any conflict of interest related to Mr Sharp’s role while William Shawcross, the Commissioner for Public Appointments, has opened an investigation into the competition which led to his appointment.
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Labour 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”.
On Monday, Mr Johnson told Sky News that Mr Sharp “knows absolutely nothing about my personal finances – I can tell you that for 100% ding-dang sure”.
Rishi Sunak, who is under pressure over Tory Party chairman Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs, has sought to distance himself from the controversy, saying Mr Sharp’s appointment was made by “one of my predecessors”.