/ 20 October 2022

Did Liz Truss mislead the public about her husband’s secretive work?

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UK Prime Minister Liz Truss resigned on Thursday. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

MPs and transparency campaigners have urged the United Kingdom’s prime minister to explain her husband’s links to an elite property fixer after discrepancies emerged in her official transparency records.

The revelations come as Liz Truss battles to remain in power after just 38 days in the job, having scrapped the tax policies that defined her leadership campaign and fired her chancellor and close ally, Kwasi Kwarteng.

Truss, who in her ministerial career has formally declared almost no financial or familial interests, said in a submission to the List of Ministers’ interests that her husband, Hugh O’Leary, worked at a company called Arrakis Investments Limited, yet documents filed with Companies House say the firm at the time had no employees other than its one director.

Under the ministerial code, cabinet members have to declare any possible conflict of interest, including those linked to the work of family members.

Truss first disclosed her husband’s work in 2017, while she was chief secretary to the treasury. But the company’s own accounts from that year list only one person on the payroll: its director, Jonathan Raymond.

Little is known about Arrakis Investments, which has no website and shares its name with the fictional desert planet featured in the sci-fi novel, Dune. But what is known is that Raymond, its director, is the godson and former personal assistant of one of Britain’s most well-known property tycoons, Jack Dellal.

Every year since, the same statement has appeared on the register: “Ms Truss’s husband is employed by Arrakis Investments Ltd.” Yet every year, Arrakis Investments has listed only one worker in Companies House documents, its own director.

Contacted multiple times, Number 10 did not deny the discrepancy but was not able to provide an explanation.

Because of Truss’s failure to appoint an independent ethics minister after the resignation of Lord Geidt, there has not been an update to the List of Ministers’ Interests since May.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner accused Truss of “allowing Tory sleaze to fester on her watch” and said Labour would set up an independent ethics and integrity commission “to clean up politics and restore standards in public life”.

“The prime minister has serious questions to answer about these troubling inconsistencies in her own transparency returns,” Rayner told openDemocracy. “She must urgently appoint an independent ethics adviser to investigate apparent breaches of the rules and get to the bottom of this murky business.”

Labour MP Clive Lewis added: “There is a clear trend of democratic erosion in the UK, with opacity increasingly favoured over transparency, and already weak checks and balances on political power being disregarded.

“The prime minister should hold themselves to the highest standards of transparency. Yet the discrepancies in Liz Truss’s records about her husband’s job — even if a bureaucratic oversight or mistake — reflects a broader culture of secrecy and a disregard for democratic norms like accountability. That is now the rule of how the UK government is run, and not the exception to it.”

It is not the first time Truss has been criticised about transparency. The department for international trade, under her leadership, was condemned after failing to comply with freedom of information laws, while in August, it was revealed Truss had declared two meetings as foreign secretary, the fewest of all MPs.

“Whether Liz Truss has provided inaccurate information on her husband’s employment on purpose or by accident, this certainly demonstrates a lack of attention on her part,” the Scottish National Party MP for Glasgow Central, Alison Thewliss, told openDemocracy. “Liz Truss has form in this as foreign secretary, with a previous lack of transparency when declaring meetings. With each day that passes more trust slips away from the prime minister — she must now explain what has happened and put the record straight as a matter of urgency.”

Who is Hugh O’Leary?

Previously, much has been known about prime ministers’ spouses and their professional lives.

But a month after O’Leary moved into Number 10, all the public knows is that he is an “accountant”. O’Leary himself has remained discreet about his professional life, and his LinkedIn contains no details of former or current employers.

Information seen by openDemocracy reveals O’Leary was formerly the chief financial officer for Affinity Global Real Estate, a property investment company. He worked at the company between 2015 and 2017, and has previously worked as financial controller at shopping giant Westfield UK. Between 2007 and 2015, O’Leary acted as finance director for Allied Commercial, a company whose director is Jack Dellal’s grandson, Alexander Dellal.

On his company bio, now no longer available online, O’Leary is described as an “experienced finance director” whose key role at Affinity Global Real Estate was to “enhanc[e] the company’s financial performance and strategic position”.

It is unclear where O’Leary has been employed since 2017. The only UK-registered company linked to Arrakis Investments on Companies House that records more than one employee is its similarly-named subsidiary, Arrakis Commercial Enterprises, which has recorded two since 2020 — three years after Truss’s initial declaration. In 2017, however, Arrakis Commercial also had only one employee, Jonathan Raymond.

openDemocracy contacted O’Leary and Raymond multiple times but neither responded to requests for comment.

Transparency International said the ambiguity around Truss’s husband showed the need for tougher policing of the register of interests, something Truss herself could implement.

“If the public are to have faith that those in high office are being open about any potential conflicts of interest and will not seek to use their position of power for personal benefit, it is essential that these declarations are full and accurate,” Rose Whiffen, research officer at Transparency International UK, told openDemocracy. “To demonstrate her commitment to transparency, the prime minister should set out when the ministerial interests disclosures for the new government will be published and commit to appointing a new independent ethics adviser.”

This is an edited version of an article first published by openDemocracy. Ruby Lott-Lavigna is the news and politics reporter for openDemocracy specialising in housing and inequalities.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.