Rishi Sunak likens himself to Will Smith in defence of his wife

‘At least I didn’t get up and slap anybody’, chancellor says in interview after tough week

Rishi Sunak has compared himself to Will Smith as the chancellor defended his wife against criticism over financial links to Russia, saying: “At least I didn’t get up and slap anybody.”

Sunak has come under mounting pressure over accusations that his wife is collecting “blood money” in dividends from a family company that continues to operate in Russia despite the invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking to the BBC’s Newscast after a challenging week in which his spring statement also met heavy criticism, he said it was “very upsetting and … wrong for people to try and come at my wife”.

Sunak drew parallels with Smith, who hit the comedian Chris Rock at the Oscars on Sunday after a joke about his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, as well as the beleaguered England cricket captain, Joe Root.

The chancellor quipped: “Someone said, ‘Joe Root, Will Smith, and me – not the best of weekends for any of us’. But I feel, on reflection, both Will Smith and me having our wives attacked – at least I didn’t get up and slap anybody, which is good.”

Sunak’s wife, Akshata Murthy, who keeps a low public profile, is the daughter of the billionaire founder of Indian tech giant Infosys. According to its latest annual report, Murthy holds a stake in the firm worth approximately £690m, which is estimated to have yielded £11.5m in dividend payments over the past year.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have criticised Sunak over his wife’s investment in the firm, with the shadow transport secretary, Louise Haigh, calling it “really quite shocking”.

Asked about such comments, Sunak said: “You know, I think it’s totally fine for people to take shots at me. It’s fair game … It’s very upsetting and, I think, wrong for people to try and come at my wife.”

He also defended his father-in-law, the Infosys founder NR Narayana Murthy, saying he had “nothing but enormous pride and admiration for everything that he’s achieved, and no amount of attempted smearing is going to make me change that because he’s wonderful and has achieved a huge amount. As I said, I’m enormously proud of him.”

Sunak has urged British countries to withdraw from Russia to “inflict maximum economic pain” on Vladimir Putin’s regime but the Indian government has been more ambivalent in its attitude to the invasion.

The ministerial code says that ministers must declare any financial interests that could give rise to a conflict, including those of their spouse and close family. A spokesperson for the chancellor has said Murthy and her family members do not “have any involvement in the operational decisions of the company”.

Responding to the criticism earlier this week, Infosys issued a statement saying it had “a small team of employees based out of Russia, that services some of our global clients, locally”. “We do not have any active business relationships with local Russian enterprises,” the company said, adding that it had committed $1m (£0.76m) to help the victims of the war.

Sunak’s lifestyle has come under growing scrutiny as the cost of living crisis has become more pressing. He was ridiculed last week for a staged photo opportunity after the spring statement, in which he filled up a Kia car belonging to a supermarket worker.

The chancellor met Murthy when the couple were both studying at Stanford University and they still have an apartment in California, as well as a large property in his Richmond, North Yorkshire, constituency.


Heather Stewart

The GuardianTramp

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