Chancellor Rishi Sunak has refused to say whether he will profit from a spike in the share price of coronavirus vaccine manufacturer Moderna – one of the biggest investments held by the hedge fund he helped form before becoming an MP.
Moderna has become the latest biotech firm to announce successful trials of its Covid-19 jab, revealing on Monday that it was 94.5% effective.
Sunak helped found Theleme Partners, a major investor in Moderna.
He left the firm in 2013, when he returned to the UK to pursue his political career.
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It is not known whether the chancellor retained any investment in Theleme after leaving, which is registered in the tax heaven Cayman Islands and does not make company records public.
In a list of ministers’ interests published last year, Sunak declared that he was the beneficiary of a blind trust – the contents of which have not been disclosed to the public.
A blind trust is where control over shares and other assets is handed over to an independent trustee who makes investment decisions on behalf of the beneficiary.
The beneficiary continues to profit from the financial interest and retains full ownership rights, but is no longer involved in any decision over its management, acquisition or disposal.
The arrangement is designed to give the public confidence that a minister cannot benefit personally from decisions over which he or she has influence. However, although it allows politicians to avoid conflicts of interest, it blocks scrutiny of any financial dealings.
Critics say that while ministers know what has gone into the trust at the point of creation, the public does not.
The Treasury has refused to disclose whether Mr Sunaks investments included a stake in Theleme’s fund or Moderna at the time his blind trust was created.
Defending blind trusts, a Treasury spokesman said they are ‘longstanding mechanisms for protecting ministers in the handling of their interests’ and that ‘politicians of all stripes’ have used them, ‘including the last Labour Government’.
He added: ‘The Cabinet Office has set out what are judged to be the relevant interests in the regular list of ministerial interests.’
On appointment to each new office, ministers must provide their Permanent Secretary with a full list in writing of all interests which might be thought to give rise to a conflict. The list should also cover interests of the minister’s spouse or partner and close family that could give rise to conflict.
Mr Sunak, thought to be one of the richest sitting MPs, is married to Akshata Murthy, the daughter of Indian billionaire and co-founder of Infosys, N. R. Narayana Murthy.
The Permanent Secretary’s office said that they are aware of the Chancellor and his wife’s financial interests and are satisfied that appropriate measures have been put in place to avoid any conflict of interest.
A Treasury spokesman added: ‘The Prime Minister’s independent adviser on ministerial interests has confirmed he is completely satisfied with the Chancellor’s propriety of arrangements and that he has followed the ministerial code to the letter in his declaration of interests.’
Opposition MPs have long challenged Mr Sunak over his hedgefund past.
Commenting on the chancellor’s blind trust last month, the Liberal Democrat leader, Ed Davey, said: ‘The truth with this trust is that the only people that are blind to it are the public.
‘The chancellor only set up the trust 18 months ago but the public has no idea where the money is or whether there is a conflict of interest. With public trust in this government plummeting, greater transparency in all their dealings is essential and the chancellor must show a lead.’
The Government’s decision to purchase the Moderna vaccine is likely to intensify calls for Sunak to disclose whether he stands to benefit from the company’s success.
Downing Street secured five million doses of the vaccine – the best hope of lifting the country out of lockdown– quickly after the news of Moderna’s successful trial results broke.
The UK has already secured 40 million doses of a vaccine from Pfizer/BioNTech, which uses the same technology as Moderna and should be in the UK before Christmas.
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