City Hall’s Johnson-Arcuri probe paused following police watchdog request
Minister Nicky Morgan also faced separate questions from MPs about a £100,000 Government grant to businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri’s company.
A City Hall investigation into US businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri and her relationship with Boris Johnson has been paused following a request by the police watchdog.
It comes as Digital and Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan, in a separate inquiry, said she would “not pre-judge” a Government review into the awarding of a £100,000 grant to Ms Arcuri’s Hacker House company, following allegations she falsified her application.
On Wednesday, members of the London Assembly oversight committee were due to start an inquiry in relation to allegations the Prime Minister showed favouritism to the former model during his time as mayor of London by giving her £126,000 in public funding and privileged access to three foreign trade missions.
But at the start of the meeting, committee chairman Len Duvall AM said it had received correspondence from the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) “asking us to pause our investigation”.
He added: “I’m not clear whether they are scoping out whether to investigate or are actually investigating.”
Mr Duvall continued: “We respect the right of the IOPC…, in their jurisdiction, which is very narrow in its definition, of looking at the actions of Boris Johnson in his time as police and crime commissioner during the time of some of the potential allegations.”
He said the committee did not wish to “jeopardise” any other investigation taking place, adding: “That is why we will pause our activities now and they will resume at the appropriate time.”
Mr Johnson has complied with a request for evidence from the committee and members have so far agreed with a request from the Conservative Party leader’s solicitors for the submitted papers to be kept confidential.
The former mayor has previously accused his “old friends” in the London Assembly of “barking up the wrong tree” with their investigation.
An IOPC spokesman said: “We are currently acquiring material as part of our assessment to determine whether it is necessary for this matter to be criminally investigated.
“We have asked the committee to give precedence to our inquiries given we are assessing possible criminality.”
Ms Arcuri used an interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain this month to deny reports that she received favouritism during Mr Johnson’s eight-year stint as mayor.
The businesswoman, who said she met Mr Johnson for the first time in October 2011, said: “Never once did I ask him for a favour. Never once did he write a letter of recommendation for me. He didn’t know about my asking to go to trips.”
Meanwhile, MPs on the influential Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee quizzed Cabinet minister Mrs Morgan on her department’s award of £100,000 to Ms Arcuri’s digital skills training business, Hacker House.
There have been questions raised in the Commons about the due diligence made on the grant approval – meant to be spent on improving IT skills in the UK – after reports emerged that the outfit was based in America.
Calls to Hacker House’s telephone number were answered by workers based in California, where Ms Arcuri, 34, is said to be based.
Whitehall officials also waived funding limit restrictions on grants not being able to exceed 50% of a firm’s annual income.
Ministers have since paused the grant and the Government’s internal audit agency is conducting an inquiry.
Mrs Morgan, when asked whether she would forward the case to the police if Ms Arcuri was found to have falsified her address on her funding application, said she would “not pre-judge the review”.
She added: “As a former company lawyer, I know the Companies Act fairly well.
“It is not unreasonable to have directors with overseas addresses but a UK company address. I’m not going to pre-judge it.
“The whole point of having the internal audit agency doing this is to see where the evidence lies.”
The Secretary of State said she had not seen a copy of Hacker House’s accounts or the initial application for grant funding but told MPs she “doubt(ed) very much there is any reference to the Prime Minister” in the papers.
She said it “wouldn’t surprise” her that the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport had approached Ms Arcuri about applying for money, as the entrepreneur has claimed, given cyber security training was a pressing need in the UK.