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Police watchdog rules out criminal investigation into Boris Johnson over association with American businesswoman but GLA will continue standards probe

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has said it will not be conducting a criminal investigation into allegations that Prime Minister Boris Johnson used his position while Mayor of London to benefit and reward American businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri.

The IOPC said its Operation Lansdowne review “found no evidence indicating Mr Johnson influenced the payment of any sponsorship monies to Ms Arcuri or that he influenced or played an active part in securing her participation in trade missions”.

The review did establish that there was a close association between Mr Johnson and Ms Arcuri “and there may have been an intimate relationship”.

The IOPC said that the Greater London Authority (GLA) code of conduct which applied at the time meant that, even if the relationship was intimate, Mr Johnson had no obligation to include Ms Arcuri’s business interests in his own register of interests.

“However, under the broader Nolan Principles of Public Life, our review suggests it would have been wise for Mr Johnson to have declared this as a conflict of interest, and a failure to do so could have constituted a breach of these broader principles contained within the GLA 2012 Code of Conduct,” the IOPC said.

“As this does not amount to a potential criminal offence, this is now a matter for the GLA to consider.”

In September 2019 the GLA referred allegations to the IOPC that on more than one occasion, Mr Johnson, as Mayor of London, used his position to benefit and reward Ms Arcuri or her companies with sponsorship money and access to trade missions, potentially committing the offence of misconduct in public office.

Responding to the IOPC’s announcement, the chair of the GLA's Oversight Committee said the IOPC’s decision had no real bearing on its investigation, which would focus on Mr Johnson’s conduct as Mayor of London.

In its report the IOPC made five recommendations to the GLA and London & Partners (L&P), the international trade, investment and promotion agency for London, around clearer policies, procedures and record keeping.

The recommendations are:

  1. The GLA conducts a full audit of its policies, processes, tools and systems relating to the management and retention of information.
  2. L&P, with input from the GLA, reviews its policies and processes around the selection of companies to attend trade missions to ensure transparency and consistency in decision-making.
  3. The GLA considers using its inspection, scrutiny and audit powers to conduct a review of L&P policies and processes around the payment of sponsorship money. L&P may also wish to commission its own audit to review sponsorship payments, the reasons for them, and whether they have been appropriately authorised and provided value for money.
  4. In any revised Code of Conduct, the GLA ensures that requirements to disclose interests are consistent and do not conflict with one another or with other applicable policies and/or procedures.
  5. The GLA develops and provides training and guidance for Monitoring Officers (MOs) that clearly explains the referral process, their obligations and the expectations related to the provision of relevant material.

IOPC Director General Michael Lockwood said: “We would strongly urge the GLA and London & Partners (L&P) to consider these recommendations in order to provide critical public assurance around their governance processes.” 

As part of its review as to whether reasonable grounds existed to suspect that the offence of misconduct in public office had been committed, the IOPC reviewed nearly 900 documents, including eight  years of relevant emails. It also interviewed and took statements from a number of witnesses in the UK and abroad during the process.

Lockwood said: “We found no evidence to indicate that Mr Johnson influenced the payment of any sponsorship monies to Ms Arcuri or that he influenced or played an active part in securing her participation in trade missions.

“While there was no evidence that Mr Johnson influenced the payment of sponsorship monies or participation in trade missions, there was evidence to suggest that those officers making decisions about sponsorship monies and attendance on trade missions thought that there was a close relationship between Mr Johnson and Ms Arcuri, and this influenced their decision-making.”

The IOPC said its review took longer than expected “due to the poor quality of information provided in the initial referral, a lack of records and delays in third parties providing information. Some of the records which would have assisted the review either never existed or have been deleted”.  

The matter was referred to the IOPC by the GLA because, as the Mayor of London, Mr Johnson was also the head of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, which is a position equivalent to that of a Police and Crime Commissioner. Any indication a criminal offence may have been committed by the office holder, whether or not they still hold that position, must be referred to the IOPC to decide whether the matter should be criminally investigated.

Len Duvall AM, Chair of the GLA Oversight Committee, said: “The IOPC was looking specifically at whether he committed a criminal offence. That’s not our remit and their decision doesn’t have any real bearing on our investigation, which will focus on his conduct as Mayor of London.

“Everyone who holds public office whether you’re the Mayor of London, or indeed the Prime Minister, is expected to adhere to the principles of public life – including integrity, selflessness, openness and honesty, to name a few.”

Mr Duvall added: “Our investigation will consider whether Boris Johnson conducted himself in a way that’s expected from anyone in that position. It’s important we get those answers, because Londoners deserve to have their politicians held accountable.

“The Oversight Committee will take into account the current emergency when looking at the timetable for the investigation.”