BBC chairman Richard Sharp denies loan role for Boris Johnson before appointment

BBC chairman Richard Sharp has denied facilitating a loan of up to £800,000 for Boris Johnson before the then prime minister backed his appointment to head the broadcaster.

In a bruise by MPs, Mr Sharp insisted he had “not arranged the loan”, although he admitted that he had introduced his friend Sam Blyth, who wanted to help the then Prime Minister with his financial problems, to the Cabinet shortly before. take on the BBC role.

The former Goldman Sachs banker said he regretted “embarrassing the BBC” but appeared to have no regrets about withholding information about his involvement in the case from the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sports (DCMS) Committee while on the case. run for the BBC post.

Mr Sharp was dragged before committee again on Tuesday and admitted he acted as a “kind of introduction agency” in arranging a meeting between Mr Blyth and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case.

“As an intermediary I was not standing between Mr Blyth and Mr Johnson, but I was actually trying to ensure that a fair trial was followed by making sure that Mr Blyth had contact with the Cabinet before doing anything to help his nephew help,” he added.

Mr Sharp said he then raised with Mr Case “the fact that I had submitted my application to become the chairman of the BBC and therefore, to avoid any conflict or perception of conflict, I could have had no further participation – and we agreed. in whatever happened, and I didn’t.

Mr Sharp admitted he went to Mr Johnson to discuss the BBC presidency before applying, but insisted their relationship was “broadly professional”.

He told the then Prime Minister during their meeting that Mr Blyth wanted to meet Mr Case to see if he could help Mr Johnson with his finances, he revealed.

But, said Mr Sharp, “I have not and have not given personal financial advice to the former Prime Minister, I know nothing about his (financial) affairs, I never have.

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson (Andrew Boyers/PA)

“I did not facilitate a loan…

“I have nothing to do with it at all, I am not a party to anything that happened or didn’t happen then.

“I have no knowledge of a bank, I have no knowledge of the actual loan.”

The BBC chairman was accused by MP Kevin Brennan of a “monumental error of judgement” in failing to inform the DCMS committee of the scheme at its pre-appointment hearing in January 2021.

When asked if he regrets not doing this, Mr Sharp said: “Obviously I regret this situation.”

He went on to say he “took comfort” in his application for the BBC role when meeting Mr Case.

He denied trying to hide his involvement because he believed it would never come to light.

The BBC chairman said: “Obviously this has embarrassed the BBC and I am sorry.”

He said that while he wished “we weren’t where we are today”, “I acted in good faith to make sure the rules were followed and in that sense I don’t regret it”.

He declined to say whether he would resign if an investigation by the public appointments watchdog criticizes him for withholding information.

He told MPs he “should see what the investigation turns up” and insisted he was “subject to a very rigorous interview process” and was hired “on merit”.

Mr Sharp also accused the press of “mischaracterising” and spreading “significant inaccuracies” about his involvement, including BBC journalists “guilty” of “repeating inaccuracies” from other media outlets.

Rishi Sunak said Mr Sharp’s appointment appears to have been carried out “rigorously and transparently”.

The Prime Minister said: “This is clearly about an appointment made by a previous Prime Minister before I took this job, so it’s difficult for me to comment on the details of it.

“What I do know is that his nomination process was rigorous and transparent; it was approved by a panel of experts and indeed a multi-party select committee in parliament.

“But it’s good that people have confidence in the process and that’s why the independent Commissioner for Public Appointments is reviewing the process to make sure everything went right.”

But Damian Green, acting chairman of the DCMS committee, said the procedure to vet the BBC chairman was “quite unsatisfactory” and MPs “didn’t know the full facts”.

He told LBC’s Tonight With Andrew Marr program, “There was a material relationship between him and the prime minister that we should have known about.”

Public Appointments Commissioner William Shawcross was set to investigate how Mr Sharp got the job, but backed down last week, saying the pair had met “on previous occasions”.

Attorney Adam Heppinstall KC has now been appointed to lead the investigation.

The Liberal Democrats said Mr Sharp’s evidence “completely undermines” Mr Johnson’s earlier claims.

Lib Dem chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: “Johnson is once again true to form as a liar in chief.

“We have seen cover-up after cover-up with this Conservative government and the public deserves full transparency.

“It is clear that Boris Johnson’s premiership will increasingly be remembered as a series of sordid scandals that dragged Britain down.”

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