The chairman of the BBC has denied facilitating a £800,000 loan for Boris Johnson before the then-PM approved his appointment as head of the broadcaster.
Richard Sharp admitted introducing his friend Sam Blyth, who wanted to help Mr Johnson with his financial troubles, to the Cabinet Office - but he insisted he “didn’t arrange the loan”.
The former banker's appointment in February 2021 has been called into question following claims of Mr Sharp's involvement in the loan, with critics saying it represented a conflict of interest.
He withheld information about his involvement in the matter from the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) Committee while he was in the running for the BBC post.
Mr Sharp conceded that he acted as a “sort of introduction agency” when arranging a meeting between Mr Blyth and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.
He said he regretted causing “embarrassment for the BBC”, but showed no remorse about his decision not to mention his role in it at a committee hearing weeks before his appointment.
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His involvement reportedly began when his friend Mr Blyth - a cousin of Mr Johnson - read about the then-prime minister's reported financial troubles and said he wanted to help.
Instead of facilitating the loan, Mr Sharp insists he put Mr Blyth in contact with Cabinet Secretary Simon Case in order to ensure everything was done by the book.
“As a go-between I was not between Mr Blyth and Mr Johnson, but I was actually seeking to ensure that due process was followed by ensuring that Mr Blyth had contact with the Cabinet Office before he would do anything to help his cousin,” he added.
Mr Sharp said he then raised with Mr Case “the fact that I’d submitted my application to be the chair of the BBC and that therefore to avoid a conflict, or perception of conflict, I could have – and we agreed – no further participation in whatever transpired whatsoever, and I didn’t.”
Mr Sharp admitted that he went to see Mr Johnson to discuss the BBC chairmanship before he applied, but insisted their relationship was “broadly professional”.
Defending himself further to MPs, he went on: “I did not provide and have not provided the former prime minister personal financial advice, I know nothing about his (financial) affairs, I never have done,” he said.
“I didn’t facilitate a loan…
“I’ve nothing to do with it whatsoever, I’m not party to anything that then happened or didn’t happen.
“I’ve no knowledge of a bank, I’ve no knowledge of the actual loan.”
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Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Mr Sharp's appointment was “conducted rigorously and transparently” but said the process was being reexamined to give people confidence.
He said: “Well this is obviously about an appointment made by a previous prime minister, before I took this job, so it’s hard for me to comment on the details of it.
“What I do know is that his appointment process was conducted rigorously and transparently, it was approved by a panel of experts and indeed a cross-party select committee in Parliament.
“But it is right that people have confidence in the process and that’s why the independent commissioner on public appointments is re-looking at the process to make sure that everything was done correctly.”
The BBC chairman was accused by MP Kevin Brennan of a “monumental failure of judgment” in failing to tell the DCMS committee about the arrangement at his pre-appointment hearing in January 2021.
Asked whether he regretted not doing so, Mr Sharp said: “Obviously I regret this situation.”
Pressed further, he said that he “took comfort” from having raised his application for the BBC role during his meeting with Mr Case.
He denied seeking to hide his involvement because he thought it would never come to light.
The BBC chairman said: “It’s manifest that this has cause embarrassment for the BBC and I regret that.”
He declined to say whether he would resign if an investigation by the public appointments watchdog criticises him for withholding information.
He told MPs he would “need to see what the inquiry produces” and insisted he was “subject to a very rigorous interview process” and was hired “on merit”.