Bailout too late for Rishi Sunak's wife

Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak outside No 11 Downing Street

Rishi Sunak outside No 11 Downing Street - Credit: PA

David Cameron's mates at Greensill Capital may not have been eligible for any of Rishi Sunak’s emergency Covid bailouts, but it turns out that a company in which the chancellor's wife Akshata Murty had invested in heavily did qualify.

Even though the educational publishing outfit called Mrs Wordsmith received a £1.3m cash injection from Sunak’s Future Fund Covid-19 loan support scheme, it has still gone into administration, owing £16 million and losing Murty’s investment company Catamaran Ventures £403,000 in the process.

Mrs Wordsmith secured its Future Fund support in September 2020, four months after Sunak launched the scheme. HMRC’s database says it was receiving between £25,001 and £50,000 a month before it went into administration last month.

The company was set up in 2015 by Sofia Fenichell, a businesswoman of Tunisian origin who worked for a time as a tech analyst at Goldman Sachs, where Sunak was formerly employed.

Administrators Cork & Gully report a succession of loss-making years for Mrs Wordsmith: down £9.5m in the 2019 accounts; £2.6m in 2020, £3.2m in 2019 and £4.6m in 2018.

Fenichell encouraged her employees to involve their children in the business as it would be children who would be using their educational products.
She was quoted as saying: "When people come in here, they say 'who's running this place – a bunch of kids?' And I say: 'Yes. We don't believe in products that parents have to force kids to use.'"

Catamaran Ventures was set up by Murty and Sunak in 2013, but Sunak ceased to be involved in the company when he joined the government. Catamaran holds £1,486,804 worth of investments – a mere fraction of the £430 million Murty has tied up in the family firm Infosys.

Legal dispute

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Although there were howls of outrage from several well-heeled lawyer-peers, the House of Lords last week agreed to accept a recommendation from their conduct committee that they should declare work they do for foreign governments publicly and the fees that they are paid.

Several of m'learned friends in the Upper House protested that the new rules would "destroy" London's reputation for international legal expertise and prevent leading QCs from playing an active part in the Lords.

Lord Rooker riposted that at least three taking part in last week's debate hadn't spoken in the Lords for three years.

Lord Mance, who chairs the conduct committee, accepted a two-year role as an international judge of the Singapore International Commercial Court in January 2019. He is among those who will be most affected by the new rules, but he chose not to speak in the debate. He also sits at the chief justice of the Astana International Finance Centre court of Kazakhstan.

Lord Dacre

The long-running saga of whether or not the former Daily Mail editor Paul Dacre will be permitted to take over at the broadcasting watchdog Ofcom looks as if it's reaching its conclusion.

Final interviews for the £142,500-a-year role were held this week and an announcement is expected soon. I understand Dacre, who still works as Lord Rothermere's editor-in-chief, has been seeing out the lockdown on his estate in the British Virgin Islands, but journeyed back for the final interrogation. Boris Johnson has reputedly said there's a peerage in it for him if he manages to bag the job.

If he fails, Channel 4 remains interested in doing his television special The World According to Paul Dacre and there are also his memoirs to look forward to.

Dom's man

Michael Gove's insistence in the Commons that Boris Johnson is an honourable man may soon be thought of in the same way as Mark Antony's funeral oration in Julius Caesar.

"Gove and Dominic Cummings remain extremely close," one Tory grandee whispers. "Dominic knows his best chance of returning to No.10 would be to have Michael replace Boris."

Gove had up until his cameo in the Commons been keeping a low profile. Flattering stories about him – always from undisclosed sources – are a staple of Rupert Murdoch's Sunday Times, but over the weekend there was, for once, not a word about him. Even Gove's columnist wife Sarah Vine was absent from the pages of the Mail on Sunday, with the newspaper stating simply that she was "away."

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