Artillery Row

Boris and Jennifer Arcuri: case not closed

The IOPC review is wrong. Incriminating material highly pertinent to Johnson’s conduct does still exist.

Trust in the prime minister’s judgement is haemorrhaging for the worst of all reasons:  the “one-rule-for-us, another-for-you-lot” reason. Boris Johnson may regard the Cummings row as closed after Durham Police concluded he might only have “committed a minor breach of the lockdown rules,” but no amount of Boris bluster will close it.

Last week, there was another example of prime ministerial double standards which unlike the Cummings imbroglio, barely flickered on the political radar.

“Operation Lansdowne” – an evidential review by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) – found no grounds for a criminal investigation into allegations that Johnson had misconducted himself as London Mayor by using his position to benefit and reward his lover, the American tech entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri. Misconduct in Public Office (MIPO) is a serious offence and carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

Whilst the IOPC was at pains to emphasise that its review of the available evidence had been “thorough, independent and impartial”, it nonetheless reached its conclusion without having interviewed the only two witnesses who know the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth: the prime minister and Jennifer Arcuri. An interview with Johnson was oddly regarded as “inappropriate”; in Arcuri’s case, having declined to be interviewed, she was sent a questionnaire.

The suspicion that Mayor Johnson had committed Misconduct in Public Office was based on allegations that he’d helped Arcuri or her tech companies with sponsorship money and access to trade missions. The IOPC became involved because as London Mayor, Johnson was the equivalent of Police and Crime Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police, so by law the Greater London Authority (GLA) must refer any suspicion of criminality by that office holder to the IOPC to assess whether a criminal investigation is merited.

When Arcuri was asked by the IOPC if she’d retained emails of her dealings with the Mayor’s official promotional agency (London and Partners) and the Greater London Authority (GLA), she said she no longer had them. As for Johnson, the IOPC found that his email account on his GLA laptop had been deleted when he left office in 2016 instead of the data having been transferred to GLA executive officers as he and his staff were obliged to do, nor any evidence that they were reminded of this obligation. The IOPC say it is “unrealistic to expect that incriminating material still exists” in their hands “or remains recoverable from them.”

The IOPC are wrong. Incriminating material highly pertinent to any inquiry into Johnson’s conduct does still exist. Arcuri remains in possession of an extensive number of diary entries and text messages from Johnson spanning 2012 to 2018, although for the moment, at least, the IOPC are right to say it will not be made available to the authorities. So far, Arcuri has chosen not to publish this material, despite several lucrative newspaper offers. However, the IOPC appear to have been unaware of the existence of this evidential treasure trove, or if they were, don’t seem to have sought it.

I, however, have had access to the material having spent many days getting alongside Arcuri  to try to establish whether Johnson had breached the GLA’s 2012 Code of Conduct  which incorporates the so called “Nolan principles” of public life’ – selflessness, integrity, objectivity, and honesty.

I was investigating the matter for an ITV documentary in its “Exposure” slot (“When Boris met Jennifer”) and the nature of Johnson’s relationship as Mayor with Arcuri was clearly central to the question of any breach. Sight of Arcuri’s private material enabled me to satisfy the channel’s legal department that there was documentary evidence to corroborate other evidence that their relationship had been sexual. In fact, the documentary evidence shows the relationship became much more than that: over four years of increasing intensity it developed into a passionate love affair.

Without delving into the more intimate details of the diary, it is sufficient to say that Arcuri’s documentary evidence calls into question some of the IOPC’s findings. They say it’s reasonable to suspect Johnson committed Misconduct in Public Office provided he had:

  1. i) permitted Arcuri to “attend events” at his New York Trade Mission in February 2015 “when he should have refused to make the decision and declared his relationship with her”, or
  2. ii) knew “she had used her relationship with him to obtain that benefit” but had failed “to take steps to prevent it.”

Evidentially, say the IOPC, that suspicion would have to rely on Arcuri’s account to David Slater, Director of International Trade and Investment at London & Partners which Slater reported in an email that she had “been speaking to Boris and Will Walden [Mayor Johnson’s then PR Chief] about [her] being in New York and they are both apparently happy with that.”

However, the IOPC question Arcuri’s credibility in her reported claim to have “been speaking to Boris” about the New York trip even though Walden confirmed to the IOPC that she had spoken to him about it. Johnson’s solicitors told the IOPC that he had hadn’t expected her to attend the trade mission, but that again is flatly contradicted by Walden who told the IOPC he recalled Johnson “rolling his eyes” when Arcuri’s name was read out as being on the guest list in advance of the trip.

Still, the IPOC conclude that even had Johnson been aware Arcuri was on the New York guest list and done nothing, it would not be enough for a “reasonable suspicion of MIPO” unless there was evidence that suggested his failure to prevent her going was “the result of his knowingly or recklessly ignoring a duty to act, or for the purpose of conferring any benefit on himself or Ms Arcuri.”

In fact, the undisclosed evidence to which I have had access does show that Johnson knew in advance that Arcuri was going to be in New York because she had indeed been “speaking to Boris.” It also suggests that any “rolling” by Johnson of his eyes would have been feigned irritation. So eagerly did he anticipate her arrival in New York that he made two desperate attempts to see her alone but was unable to escape the watchful eye of his staff. As for any benefits Johnson might have hoped to confer on himself, a pretty good bet is that sex was one of them which perhaps explains why Johnson did not stop Arcuri attending his trade mission.

Whether the Crown Prosecution Service would have considered this evidence as likely to secure a conviction against the prime minister for having misconducted himself in public office, I am not qualified to judge but seems doubtful. The MIPO evidential threshold is very high and as the IOPC says, lacks clarity as to what conduct is sufficiently serious to justify a criminal charge. In essence, though, MIPO would have required proof beyond a reasonable doubt that Johnson wilfully disregarded the risk that his conduct was unlawful.

So, to the prime minister, the IOPC inquiry has been a “waste of police time” says his spokesman. “We welcome the fact that this politically motivated complaint has been thrown out. Such vexatious claims of impropriety in office were untrue and unfounded.” Unfortunately for Johnson, the matter is not closed, any more than is the case over Cummings.

The diary and text messages make it abundantly clear that the sexual relationship began in the Autumn of 2012  and covered three of the four Innotech conferences at which Johnson spoke.

While the IOPC has found there are no grounds for a criminal investigation into Johnson having wilfully neglected his Mayoral public duties, they do consider he may at least have been in “neglect of his public duties.” Absent the wilfulness, this no longer becomes a  criminal matter, so the IPOC have referred the case back to the GLA Police and Crime Committee to be dealt with “in such a manner (if any) as that panel may determine.”

And it’s the manner in which the GLA panel intend to investigate Johnson’s alleged “neglect of duty” that for him may yet be the most unsettling chapter in this affair. According to Len Duvall, chair of the GLA Oversight Committee, the GLA has the power to summons an ex-London Mayor to account for his previous conduct and Johnson is a man who seems at his weakest under sustained forensic questioning.

The test posited by the IOPC as to whether he did neglect his public duty as Mayor, is whether he “used his influence to benefit Ms Arcuri, made decisions in her favour having failed to declare a conflict of interest and/or he knew she was using their relationship to obtain benefits but failed to take steps to prevent it.”

The documentary evidence I have read suggests that’s exactly what he did. Between April 2012 and October 2014, Johnson agreed to be the keynote speaker at four of Arcuri’s ticket sale Innotech conferences. He therefore knew Arcuri had a pecuniary interest in Innotech. He must also have known she received sponsorship from the Mayor’s promotional agency, London and Partners (since it was advertised at those events). The IOPC say Johnson agreed to speak as a “favour to Arcuri and not at the recommendation of his staff, who were surprised and/or unhappy about him doing so.”

However, even though Johnson knew Arcuri had a pecuniary interest in Innotech, the IOPC adjudge that he was under no obligation to disclose this because it “is not clear whether Mr Johnson and Ms Arcuri were in an intimate/sexual relationship” before late 2014 and there is “no clear evidence by which the strength of their relationship” (i.e. just friends or actual lovers) could be “gauged with sufficient precision.” Friendship alone “was insufficient to create an obviously disclosable obligation.”

The diary and text messages make it abundantly clear that the sexual relationship began in the Autumn of 2012  and covered three of the four Innotech conferences at which Johnson spoke. Indeed, the relationship grew in intensity until it blossomed into a full blown love affair only for Arcuri to gently dial it down in the months following the Spring of 2016.

Moreover, the evidence records Johnson as appearing to know he was crossing a red line in public probity. Soon after their sexual relationship began, he expressed his concern at how his new lover might get him into “so much trouble.” The evidence also shows that while the prospect of sex with Arcuri appears to have been the initial force that led him to agree to speak at her Innotech conferences, he also seems to have believed she was an energising force that would contribute to growing the cluster of tech companies in east London into a thriving tech city. In any case, despite knowing that his presence as key speaker must have boosted her ticket sales, Johnson chose not to declare his relationship with her as a “close associate” with a pecuniary interest.

Two years earlier Johnson had confronted precisely the same dilemma over a previous lover having done her a favour by appointing her as an unpaid City hall adviser. Helen Macintyre was also the mother of his fifth child. Confronted with the choice to declare the relationship, or keep schtum, Johnson chose the latter only to be found out and earn a rap from the GLA Standards Committee for failing to declare Macintyre as “close associate”.  Johnson vowed to “bear in mind the definition of close associate for the future”.

He seems to have born the definition “close associate” very much in mind because three weeks after his re-election in May 2012, he approved the watering down of the disclosure rules despite having vowed when first elected Mayor to “end cronyism.”  On 23 May 2012, Johnson signed-off on dropping the requirement in the GLA Code of Conduct to register the pecuniary interest of a “close associate.” No doubt the GLA may wish to ask him if this had anything to do with the fact that he’d had his eye on Arcuri since inviting her out for a drink shortly after he spoke at her first Innotech conference. Within four months of the rule change he was sleeping with her and offering to help her advance her career.

It was this disclosure loophole in the GLA’s watered-down Code of Conduct that Johnson presumably felt allowed him to repulse with such confidence allegations that he’d failed to declare a conflict of interest last autumn when news broke of his relationship with Arcuri:

JOHNSON: Everything was done with full propriety

MARR: So, you did declare the interest and you’ll be able to say that when you’re called …

JOHNSON: No, I said everything was done …

MARR: I asked you a very specific interest. You have to declare an interest. Did you declare?

JOHNSON: There was no interest to declare.

However, if the prime minister thinks this might help him avoid public cross examination by GLA inquisitors about his relationship with Arcuri, he should probably think again.

The GLA’s new “lighter touch” Code of Conduct that he approved in 2012, nonetheless still incorporated the key Nolan ethical “principles of public life” which required him not to act “in order to gain financial or other benefits for themselves”;  or to place himself “under any financial or other obligation to outside individuals or organisations that might seek to influence (him) in the performance of (his) official duties”; nor to recommend “individuals for rewards and benefits” except “on merit”; and to “declare any private interests relating to their public duties.”

The GLA Monitoring Officer in 2012 told the IOPC that he advised Mayor Johnson and all GLA elected members that while the new Code of Conduct no longer required them to disclose pecuniary interests of friends, even intimate ones, in practice the Code might prove “to be too narrow” and since it still required “all members to observe the highest standards of ethical conduct”,  if  “intimate friends” started coming into” the “world” of the GLA, “then my advice would be … a conflict situation is starting to arise and that means a disclosure needs to be made.”

The problem for Johnson is that even though the IOPC don’t have evidence that he was “intimate” with his “friend” Jennifer Arcuri when he spoke at her Innotech conferences between 2012-14, the IOPC spoke to a Witness A who provided evidence of a sexual relationship from at least late 2014 by which time Arcuri  had indeed moved into the GLA “world” on several fronts: her relationship with Mayor Johnson, and her frequent interaction with the Mayor’s staff by deploying her formidable networking skills with a mix of charm and cajoling, to promote the London tech scene whilst also hustling to get on trade missions to sell her products.

Besides being given access to Johnson’s trade mission to New York in February 2015, Arcuri was also on his Trade mission to Malaysia in November 2014 and got access to his Israel trade mission in November 2015. And although she was accepted as a full delegate for the Malaysian mission, the IOPC says she did not qualify for either New York or Israel, although no public money was involved because she paid her own expenses. As in New York, so in Israel Johnson was desperate to see her, but she was unable to get to his hotel.

The IOPC found no evidence that Johnson directly helped Arcuri get on any of these missions and none of the documentary evidence I have seen shows this either. It is also true that Arcuri was valued as a resourceful entrepreneur by some of the senior staff at London and Partners. This email on 30 September 2014 from L&P’s Director  of International Trade and Investment captures the sentiment: “You are so funny – and we still love you! Have you figured out what Boris wants yet?” However, her trade mission access was unusual and so a key question for the IOPC is whether Johnson’s staff helped her get this access knowing their boss was in a relationship with her, and also whether he knew this and whether he had done anything to prevent it.

an aide pretended to speak in a Chinese accent, presumably to make Arcuri think she’d got the wrong number.

The evidence of which I’m aware shows that at least three officials at London and Partners and Mayor Johnson’s office were either aware or certainly guessed that he and Arcuri were in an intimate relationship and also that Johnson knew or suspected some of his staff also knew. Whether Johnson also knew that Arcuri had been assisted to get access by those staffers in the know, is not evidenced, though it is hard to imagine that he had at least not guessed this. If so, he did nothing to stop it.

So, in determining whether the prime minister did bring the GLA into disrepute when he was London Mayor, the GLA will need to decide if he “acted to ensure” that London and Partners’ decision to grant Arcuri access to the New York and Tel Aviv trade missions was “made purely on the basis of what they considered the best interests of the mission or London’s commercial interests, as opposed to any impression they may have got that granting access to the event would have been viewed favourably by Mr Johnson.”

The upshot of all this is that while Johnson removed from the 2012 GLA Code of Conduct his obligation to disclose Arcuri as a “close associate” with a pecuniary interest, the IOPC conclude that because, on the basis of evidence from their Witness A, there “may have been an intimate/sexual relationship”, when Arcuri got access to  three trade missions “it would have been wise for him to have declared this as a conflict of interest, and a failure to do so could have constituted a breach of the broader Nolan principles contained within the GLA 2012 Code of Conduct” thus bringing the GLA into disrepute.

The GLA now intend to conduct their own investigation into this matter. It will need to be approached, not as the IOPC did on the limited basis of a sexual relationship existing only from late 2014 onwards, but on the reality that it existed from Autumn 2012 spanning three of Johnson’s four appearances at Arcuri’s Innotech conferences,  as well her access to three Mayoral trade missions. In doing so, the GLA should remember that it is not Arcuri who is on trial, but Johnson. Unlike him, she broke no rules, far less the law.

The evidence I have seen also explodes the myth that the anger and hurt Arcuri expressed at Johnson in media interviews last Autumn was of a woman scorned at being replaced by Carrie Symonds. Rather, the diary makes clear that Johnson became so obsessed with Arcuri, that had Arcuri wished it, she could have had that role, had she held out for it. Instead, she decided in the Spring of 2016 that having just turned 31, he was not the man with whom she wished to have a family, although they maintained contact for the rest of that year, albeit at a declining level. After Johnson invited Arcuri to his home while his wife, Marina Wheeler, was out, Arcuri realised it was only a matter of time before she would learn of the affair, and Johnson might end up at her flat – just as he later ended up at Symonds’ flat in South London after Wheeler learned of his affair with her.

The source of Arcuri’s anger was in fact quite different. Last summer, she heard that Sunday Times reporters were asking friends of hers about the relationship. Concerned at how best to handle this, she called Johnson for his advice. Although he was now prime minister, according to Arcuri, remarkably he answered his cell phone, gasped when he heard her voice, and despite the intensity of their four year relationship, immediately passed the phone to an aide (identity unknown) who pretended to speak in a Chinese accent, presumably to make Arcuri think she’d got the wrong number. Thereafter her calls were blocked. This act of so ruthlessly cutting his ex-lover dead – before even the media storm erupted –  led Arcuri to conclude that set against his ambition to be elected as prime minister with no more complications in his chaotic private life, four years of shared secrets, intimacy, mutual love of literature and much else had counted for absolutely nothing.

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