Rishi Sunak is the first British Prime Minister richer than the monarch. Does it matter?
So, Rishi Sunak is rich. So what? The world is littered with billionaire political leaders, past and present.
In addition, the billion dollars – or maybe just hundreds of millions of dollars – belongs mainly to Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murty, who owns just under one percent of the shares of Infosys, the company of multi-billion dollar software founded by his father in India. .
It’s unclear exactly how much the pair are worth, but The Sunday Times of London on Tuesday put the figure at around £730 million, or C$1.2 billion. It may be more or less.
And even though his wife’s wealth eclipses his income, Sunak still contributed several million dollars to the family piggy bank through his work as an investment banker before becoming an MP in 2015.
Whatever the exact figure, the British media were quick to point out that when Sunak met King Charles On Tuesday, to be officially conferred on him as prime minister, for the first time in modern history, the country’s political leader and his wife were wealthier than the monarch and his queen consort.
Does it matter?
Sunak says no. The important thing, he said after meeting King Charles, is that he « will bring compassion to the challenges we face today ».
During an interview with a London Telegraph Podcast this summer he said « values are what’s important, what I wear has nothing to do with it ».
That said, Rishi Sunak has a penchant for $5,000 suits and he was criticized for once on a construction site with Prada loafers worth around $750.
Not to mention his two homes in England, an apartment to visit relatives in London and a multi-million dollar « retirement » in California.
As for questions about his wealth, « I actually appreciate it, to be honest, » he said in the podcast interview. « It’s the opposite of boring. Very few people talk to me about it. »
Wealthy world leaders
Sunak now joins a rather motley crowd of very wealthy world leaders. Take: Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong Un, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., Ali Bongo. And there are others recently removed from office – Silvio Berlusconi and, of course, Donald Trump.
The first group used high office to plunder their way to vast riches.
Russian President Vladimir Putin would have hidden his billions in fictitious companies often detained by his lieutenants, according to the revelations of the « Panama Papers » published by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, has up to 200 bank accounts in banks around the world worth billions of dollars, according to investigations by the US and South Korean governments.
Ferdinand Marcos Jr is the newly elected president of the Philippines. His father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr., also president for more than 20 years until his overthrow in 1986, managed to steal billions, according to government investigators. From this, his wife, Imelda – she from the 1,000 pairs of shoes – and his son managed to keep something like US$10 billion, despite repeated attempts by the government to recover the funds. The Marcos family denied the embezzlement charges.
There is also Ali Bongo, son of Omar Bongo, who died in 2009. Together, the two ruled the oil-rich African state of Gabon for almost 55 years. Father Omar was protected by the French government (French paratroopers once saved him from kidnapping and a coup attempt). In return he gave the country’s huge oil concession to Elf Aquitaine, a French company. Subsequently, successive French governments turned a blind eye to the family kleptocracy. President Ali Bongo is reputed to be worth over a billion dollars, with expensive properties in France and the United States.
As GDP figures and intelligence analysis show, none of these leaders left their country in better shape than when they took office.
Berlusconi, Trump flaunted wealth
The last two – Berlusconi, Italian Prime Minister for 12 years and Trump, President of the United States from 2017 to 2021 – earned their billions, through honest means or not, before taking office.
Berlusconi was renowned for starting his real estate empire with mafia-laundered silver. Trump and company are prosecuted for fraud by the New York Attorney Generalwho claims to have built his real estate empire by inflating his assets to secure favorable loan terms and minimizing the value of those assets at other times for tax purposes.
Both men paraded flamboyantly in front of their constituents. In 2018, Trump described himself as « a very stable genius.« Berlusconi did him better, announcing during the election campaign in 2006: »I am the Jesus Christ of politics. »
Each man offered his wealth as a guarantee that he could not be corrupted into power. Both have denied this.
Once elected, Berlusconi retained his vast business empire, including most of the country’s private television stations, which tilted their news programs in his favor. He got the Italian parliament to pass a law in 2008 protecting him from prosecution while in office. He was dismissed by the Italian Constitutional Court in 2009. In 2013, the same court upheld his conviction for fraud, handing him a four-year sentence, reduced to one year due to his age. He was sentenced to do community service.
As the 2016 presidential election approached, Trump promised to put his business interests in blind trust if he won. Instead, he divested business operations to his children. And according to documents recently released by a congressional committee, Trump’s company charged exorbitant prices for hotel rooms used by Secret Service agents paid to protect him.
Berlusconi and Trump were eventually pushed out of office by their constituents, and both attempted political comebacks in their respective countries although they left them adrift.
Sunak shares little of the flamboyance of Berlusconi and Trump, but like them he has worked to cling tightly to the riches he and his wife enjoy.
Sunak’s wife criticized for her tax status
He hung on to a UK prison release card for the very wealthy in the name of his wife, who was declared ‘non-dom’ – meaning not domiciled in Britain for tax purposes . For the sum of $50,000 a year paid to the tax authorities, paltry for someone so wealthy, Murty would pay no tax on his non-British income.
Last year, its dividends from Infosys were estimated at more than $15 million. Paying no UK tax on this can only be described as a delightful saving, unavailable to millions of UK taxpayers, who would normally pay 38% tax on these dividend payments.
Sunak’s wife did not change status even when her husband became UK finance minister in 2020. It wasn’t until the non-dom status became public knowledge earlier this year and Sunak’s reputation took a severe hit as Murty announced she would pay UK tax on her overseas earnings.
Nonetheless, the Sunaks are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a swimming pool and gym at their northern England mansion at a time of brutal inflation with millions of Britons wondering how they will pay their bills this winter .
And despite his protestations that he is comfortable talking about his money, Sunak has provided almost no details about his wife’s investments or the blind trust in his name containing his investments.
While it’s clear that Sunak isn’t short on money, he can’t afford to be seen as too rich for his own good or that of his country.