In Depth

Jennifer Arcuri: who is Boris Johnson’s ‘close friend’?

Model-turned-businesswoman says she has been used as ‘collateral’

The woman at the centre of four official inquiries into Boris Johnson’s conduct has hit back at critics, saying she is being used as “collateral”.

The prime minister has been under pressure to respond to allegations that he granted thousands of pounds of public money to his “close friend” Jennifer Arcuri when he was London Mayor.

An investigation by The Sunday Times found that she was given £126,000 in total and special access to three official overseas trade missions led by Johnson.

Who is Jennifer Arcuri?

She is an American model-turned-businesswoman who is claimed to have described Johnson as “one of her best friends”.

Now 34 and living in California, Arcuri “launched herself in London seven years ago as a would-be technology entrepreneur and has been lauded as one of the industry’s movers and shakers”, says the Sunday Times.

The newspaper says her first encounter with Johnson in 2012 went on to “shape her career”. Towards the end of a one-year MBA course in London, she joined the Conservative campaign team as Johnson was seeking re-election for a second term as mayor.

Arcuri launched Innotech – networking summits for tech entrepreneurs – and Johnson appeared at four of her events. According to Companies House, she has been a director of four companies, two of which are still active: Innotech and Hacker House Ltd, which teaches cybersecurity skills.

Why is Johnson under fire?

The Sunday Times claims Arcuri was given “preferential treatment” for Johnson’s overseas trade missions, joining him on three in the space of a year despite not meeting the eligibility criteria.

“Initial decisions to turn her down for two of those trips were overturned after intervention by Johnson and his close team in the mayor’s office,” says the newspaper.

She was allegedly given £10,000 in sponsorship in 2013 from an organisation that Johnson was responsible for as mayor, £15,000 in 2014 from the government’s Sirius Programme to encourage foreign entrepreneurs to build business in the UK and a £100,000 grant from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) for Hacker House earlier this year.

The Sunday Times said the third grant was intended to be for English-based businesses but Arcuri’s company address in Cheshire appeared to be no longer connected to her after she relocated to America last year. The registered office address has since been changed on Companies House to Fleet Street in London at the end of September.

According to the newspaper there are now four official inquiries into the matter. The Greater London Authority (GLA) has asked the Independent Office of Police Conduct to assess whether the prime minister, as a former police commissioner, should face a criminal investigation for misconduct in public office.

The Guardian says he allegedly failed to declare an interest in the allocation of public money to his “close friend”, noting that he was “bound by a Greater London Authority (GLA) code of conduct to declare any private interests” and “also banned from providing undue benefits to friends”.

Labour has demanded a full explanation for the funds and favours, suggesting it was a “misuse of public money”.

Sir Alistair Graham, the former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told the newspaper: “If he hasn’t declared a personal interest when public funds were being allocated, that’s a clear breach of the Nolan principles. And it looks like a specific breach of the code of conduct in operation at the GLA at the time.”

The Nolan principles are the basis of ethical standards expected of public office holders, set out by Lord Nolan in 1995.

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What have Johnson and Arcuri said?

Johnson has been asked multiple times whether or not he was in a relationship with Arcuri, but he has dodged the question. Asked again by Sky News on Tuesday, he said: “The crucial thing is that in terms of promoting London, everything was done with complete propriety.”

He has categorically denied misusing public funds.

Speaking to the Daily Mail, Arcuri said: “I’m being used as collateral. All the allegations are false.

“I had every right to be on those trips as a legitimate businesswoman and stand by everything that happened because these allegations are completely false.

“This is an orchestrated attack on me, absolutely. Someone has gone to great lengths to put together a massive attack and I stand by the legitimacy of my business. I am in fact a legitimate businesswoman.”

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