Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt (pictured with his wife Lucia) breached anti-money laundering rules after setting up a company to buy seven luxury flats in Southampton
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt breached anti-money laundering rules after setting up a company to buy seven luxury flats.
The minister, who has a personal fortune of more than £14million, failed to declare his interest in the property firm to Companies House, it was revealed last night.
The oversight is a criminal offence punishable by a fine or up to two years in prison.
He also failed to disclose his 50 per cent stake in the firm on the Parliamentary Register of Members’ interests within the specified 28 days. He later corrected both errors and apologised to the parliamentary authorities.
Mr Hunt has not breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct, according to Cabinet Office rules, and so retains the backing of Theresa May.
Yet he could still face investigation by the Commons’ Committee on Standards and Privileges, which polices the conduct of MPs.
Last night No 10 said: ‘Jeremy has rightly apologised for an administrative oversight, and as the Cabinet Office have made clear there has been no breach of the Ministerial Code. We consider the matter closed.’
But a former MPs’ watchdog said that if Mr Hunt did not ‘face consequences’ it could create a ‘perception of double standards’, with ‘one rule for the political elite and another rule for the rest of the population’.
Mr Hunt’s breaches relate to seven flats he bought in the Ocean Village complex in Southampton (pictured) in February
Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told the Daily Telegraph, which revealed the oversight: ‘It is a very poor show when ministers, who you expect to take leadership in standards … do not meet the rules they are required to meet.
‘If there has been a failure of leadership, there should be a political price for it.
Either in terms of the damage to your reputation or to action by the Prime Minister in the case of the Ministerial Code, or by the Committee on Standards.’
Mr Hunt’s breaches relate to seven flats he bought in the Ocean Village complex in Southampton in February.
The average price paid for properties in the development is £240,000 per flat, according to Zoopla.
The oversight is a criminal offence punishable by a fine or up to two years in prison
The mortgages were issued by a private bank to Mare Pond Properties Limited, a company set up by Mr Hunt and his wife Lucia Guo.
Miss Guo was the only person named in the registration documents filed at Companies House when the firm was incorporated in September 2017.
Mr Hunt appears to have breached the Companies Act on two counts. He should have declared to Companies House he was a ‘person with significant control’ within 28 days of registration. But he did not do so for six months.
Legislation passed by the Tories in 2016 made this compulsory for anyone who has more than 25 per cent of shares or voting rights in a company.
The law was a central part of the Government’s plan to tackle money laundering, and failure to comply is an offence punishable by a fine or up to two years in prison.
The second breach relates to the fact Mr Hunt’s name was omitted from the registration document – a criminal offence under another section of the Companies Act.
Parliamentary rules state MPs must register any shareholding greater than 15 per cent in any company within 28 days.
But Mr Hunt took nearly five months to do so, registering his co-ownership of the company alongside the purchase of the flats in the Register of MPs’ Interests on March 7.
He told the Telegraph the breaches were down to an honest mistake by his accountant and that he had corrected the listing after being alerted to it by a member of the public on March 28.
Mr Hunt has not breached the Ministerial Code of Conduct with the Ocean Village breach, according to Cabinet Office rules, and so retains the backing of Theresa May
His spokesman said: ‘These were honest administrative mistakes which have already been rectified.
‘Jeremy’s accountant made an error in the Companies House filing which was a genuine oversight.
‘The Cabinet Office are clear that there has been no breach of the ministerial code. Jeremy declared the interest to them after the company was set up.
‘They advised that as it was a shell company with no assets or value, it should only be registered when it became operational.
‘As such, Jeremy presumed the same rules applied to Parliamentary declarations … Jeremy accepts these mistakes are his responsibility and has apologised to the parliamentary authorities.’