In Britain, United Kingdom

Originally published on Naked Capitalism by

The Indian tech company Infosys, co-founded by Rishi Sunak’s father-in-law, N R Narayana Murthy, has seen its contracts with the UK government mushroom since Sunak became chancellor of the exchequer in 2020. Per Wikipedia, Murthy is not just one of the company’s seven co-founders; he served as its CEO for 21 years (1980-2001), its president for nine years (2002-11), and its “chief mentor” before retiring under the title “chairman emeritus”. His daughter, Akshata Murthy, who married Sunak in 2009, holds a 0.94% stake in the firm, worth some £600 million, while the Murthy family as a whole owns around 3%.

Over the past ten years, UK government contracts have earned the company some £65 million, around £47 million of which has poured in since 2020, when Sunak was appointed chancellor of the exchequer. A report by Peter Geoghegan, author of the book Democracy for Sale who runs a Substack by the same name, suggests the money flowing between Sunak’s government and his father-in-law’s company could soon accelerate:

Infosys has been listed as a supplier on a series of major public contracts that have a combined value of more than £750 million.

These ‘framework agreements’ – which have not been reported before – are by some distance the largest public contracts that Infosys has been involved with in the UK…

Infosys is one of 62 suppliers on a £562.5m contract for IT services published by the Financial Conduct Authority in October, according to the government’s Contracts Finder website.

The firm is also one of 25 suppliers on a £250m contract published by NHS Shared Business Services last month for “intelligent automation”…

These framework agreements let public bodies directly award contracts without further tendering. No awards have yet been made, but Infosys may be in line for millions in taxpayers’ money.

The contract up for grabs with the NHS is noteworthy given Infosys’ ties to Palantir, the US spyware company that recently picked up a £360 million contract to operate NHS England’s Federated Data Platform. Palantir is one of roughly 200 international companies Infosys has struck a partnership with over the years. As we reported just last week, almost three-quarters of the text of Palantir’s NHS contract, including, ironically, almost entire sections relating to patient privacy and protection of their data, has been redacted.

What Does Infosys Do?

Infosys describes itself as a “global leader in next generation digital services and consulting, enabling clients in more than 56 countries to navigate their digital transformation” powered by cloud and AI. It provides business consulting, information technology and outsourcing services. As NC reader Paul Art points out below, “Infosys was one of the earliest ‘Body Shoppers’ – a term of art in the 1980s for companies in India which shipped programmers to the USA. They also ‘in-sourced’ plenty of work from the USA and other parts of the globe leaving behind devastated armies of unemployed American and British Programmers.”

Today, Infosys is a global powerhouse with a huge roster of corporate clients and partner companies. It is not just a partner but a “strategic partner” of the World Economic Forum, which has spent decades promoting its own corporate-designed model of digital transformation globally. In 2005, Murthy himself co-chaired the WEF’s 2005 annual meeting in Davos.

Infosys has played a central role in developing and implementing India’s Aadhaar system, the world’s largest digital identity program. By 2021, the Indian government’s Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) had issued 1.3 billion unique identity numbers (UIDs) covering roughly 92% of the country’s population. Aadhaar’s chief architect is Nandan Nilekani, another co-founder and nonexecutive chairman of Infosys, who was a few years ago lauded by Bill Gates as one of his so-called “heroes of the field” for having made the world’s “invisible people, visible.”

While celebrated and even emulated by Silicon Valley billionaires, Aadhaar has major security flaws. In early November, the system suffered its largest ever breach, resulting in the personal data of hundreds of millions of Indians being put up for sale on the dark web, for as little as $80,000. Besides the vulnerability of its data storage, India’s Aadhaar system has many other downsides, as I note in my book Scanned:

[I]t tracks users’ movements between cities, their employment status and purchasing records. It is a de facto social credit system that serves as the key entry point for accessing services in India. While the system has helped to speed and clean up India’s bureaucracy, it has also massively increased the Indian government’s surveillance powers and excluded over 100 million people from welfare programs as well as basic services.

But the system is also being extolled by prominent global technocrats, including Gates and the WEF’s President Borge Brende, as the main driver of India’s rapid economic growth in recent years. The goal is to export the model as far and wide as quickly as possibly, particularly to Africa, with the help of the World Bank and the United Nations.

Facilitating “A Bigger Infosys Presence in the UK”

Back in the UK, the Sunak government is determined to introduce its ‘One Login’ digital identity system despite broad public opposition. Coincidentally or not, it is also looking to strengthen its commercial ties with Infosys. In April last year, the UK’s Trade Minister Dominic Johnson (no relation to Boris) told senior representatives of Infosys, whose names were redacted in the government’s public records, that “he was keen to see a bigger Infosys presence in the UK and would be happy to do what he could to facilitate that.”

Johnson has his own conflict of interest. Before becoming trade minister, he ran an investment fund with fellow Tory politician Jacob Rees Mogg. That fund, Somerset Capital Management LLP, holds a significant stake in Infosys. Shortly after his meeting with the Infosys executives, the fund increased that stake by around £18m, to £105m, according to a report in the Sunday Mirror. The department for business came up with the lamest of defences: Lord Johnson, it said, had resigned from Somerset Capital before becoming a minister and “has had no contact with the business since.”

Meanwhile, the ethics adviser in parliament has ruled that Sunak is not required to declare his wife’s interest in Infosys in the register of interests. But as Geoghegan notes in an interview on the Politics JOE channel, everybody knows it’s there, and there’s a strong argument for declaring these things. After all, he said, if you were on the board of a company, “these are the kinds of things you would have to declare, not as live conflicts of interest per se but as potential conflicts of interest so that they can be managed better.”

In the interview, Geoghegan is at pains to stress nothing illegal has happened here, but “the opaqueness of how these decisions are made, the opaqueness of relations between people” is troubling. “Unfortunately, we have had a rather bad track record in this area in the past few years.”

Even more worrisome are the financial interests Infosys has in Israel, which is currently committing genocide in Gaza with the unwavering support of Sunak’s government. From Declassified UK’s November article, No Outcry Over Rishi Sunak’s Family Investments in Israel:

Until April this year, the Infosys board of directors included Uri Levine, an Israeli entrepreneur known for creating the popular Waze traffic navigation app.

Levine is a veteran of Unit 8200, an elite Israeli army cyber warfare division that spies on the country’s adversaries.

He served with Unit 8200 during a five year spell in Israel’s military in the 1980s. Levine was appointed to the Infosys board in 2020.

Infosys was already operating in Israel before hiring Levine. In 2012, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Office of the Chief Scientist of Israel, to collaborate on research and development (R&D).

This has led some to speculate that Infosys supplies technology to Israel’s security apparatus. Declassified could not find direct evidence of this and Infosys did not respond to a request for comment…

The company’s investment in Israel deepened in 2015 when it acquired Panaya, a local tech firm, for around $200m, although Murthy was critical of the deal. Last year, Panaya hired Tal Arnon as its vice president of R&D.

As the article concludes, if Sunak’s wife and in-laws “were making money from businesses managed in part by former Russian or Chinese spies, then there might be more of an outcry.” While Infosys’ continued operations in Russia despite US-EU-UK sanctions have drawn scrutiny and criticism in the British press, its connections with Israel are unlikely to cause Sunak any problems since Israel is a British ally.

Moderna Money

Sunak’s potential conflicts of interest are not only family-related. Since becoming chancellor in 2020, he has faced allegations that he profited, or one day will profit, from the massive growth in sales, revenues and share price of Moderna. Thelene, a Cayman Islands-based hedge fund he helped set up, began investing in the US-based mRNA vaccine maker in 2011. By late 2020 it was Moderna’s largest hedge fund investor. Sunak had left the company seven years earlier to pursue a political career. For the past four years he has refused to confirm whether or not he stands to benefit personally from the huge returns Theleme has earned on its investment.

Today, 34% of Theleme’s funds, reported to be valued at $710m, are invested in Moderna, according to the Good Law Project. Sunak insists his investments are in a ‘blind trust’, which is supposed to protect politicians against conflicts of interest by preventing them from knowing what they are invested in. However, as an article in The Guardian suggested last year, blind trusts are more likely being used to blind the public rather than the beneficiary:

The list of ministers’ interests does not explicitly state whether Sunak, Cameron and the other ministers have handed over their assets to trustees, formally moving the legal ownership of the shares. There is no formal legal definition of a blind trust or exactly what constitutes a sufficiently independent third party to act as a trustee.

A Spotlight on Corruption report said blind trusts were “a tool to encourage the public perception that steps have been taken to manage conflicts of interests”.

The ambiguous disclosures leave open the possibility ministers are simply using a “blind management arrangement”, where they may have an informal agreement with their fund managers not to consult them on their present holdings or make decisions on the purchase and sale of assets. Neither system has any formal oversight.

Sunak, who is reported to be the richest ever occupant of 10 Downing Street, only released his tax details for the first time last year. Even then, they were somewhat short on detail. The documents showed that the PM pocketed nearly £5 million over the past three years, thanks mainly to dividends.

If, as seems likely, Sunak stands to profit from Theleme’s significant investments in Moderna, it calls into question not just the millions of Moderna vaccines his and the Boris Johnson government have purchased but also the £1bn, 10-year deal the UK government signed with the company in June 2022 to build the UK’s first manufacturing center for messenger RNA vaccines for COVID-19 and other diseases. For Moderna, it was an exceedingly generous offer: set up operations in the UK, conduct clinical trials there (testing its latest, experimental mRNA products) and as a sweetener, the government would throw in £1bn.

Although Boris Johnson was still prime minister at the time, it was Sunak, as chancellor, who had to sign off on the deal. And yet the British public still didn’t know whether he holds a financial stake in the firm’s biggest backer. And to all intents and purposes, they still don’t. To cap it all off, when the Covid inquiry requested access to his WhatsApp messages from his time as chancellor, he failed to hand them over, claiming he had changed his phone several times and failed to back them up.

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