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Richard Sharp: BBC reviewing chairman after Johnson loan row

Undated handout photo issued by DCMS of Richard Sharp, the former Goldman Sachs banker who will succeed Sir David Clementi as BBC chairman. PA Photo. Issue date: Wednesday January 6, 2021. His appointment comes amid a debate about the BBC licence fee and how the broadcaster is facing competition from streaming services.PA Media

Richard Sharp says the BBC board will review any potential conflicts of interest he may have amid scrutiny over his links with Boris Johnson.

Claims have emerged that the BBC chairman was involved in securing a loan of up to £800,000 for the then-PM.

Mr Sharp said he had not been involved in a loan, a guarantee or arranging any financing.

In a statement, he called the row “a distraction for the organisation, which I regret”.

He said he had never hidden his longstanding relationship with the former PM.

According to The Sunday Times, Mr Sharp was involved in helping to arrange a guarantor on a loan of up to £800,000 for Mr Johnson in late 2020.

Mr Sharp – a former Goldman Sachs banker – was announced as the government’s choice for the new BBC chairman in January 2021.

The government’s choice is ultimately decided by the prime minister, on the advice of the culture secretary, who is in turn advised by a panel.

Mr Sharp told BBC staff in an email: “I believe firmly that I was appointed on merit, which the Cabinet Office have also confirmed”.

Mr Johnson and the government have rejected suggestions there was any conflict of interest involved.

Labour has called for the Commissioner for Public Appointments to fully investigate the appointment.

Mr Sharp confirmed that he introduced Mr Johnson to Sam Blyth, who he described as an “old friend” and who also happened to be a distant cousin of the then-PM.

The Sunday Times identified Mr Blyth as the source of a loan facility worth up to £800,000.

Mr Sharp said Mr Blyth had offered to support the then-PM “having become aware of the financial pressures” on him.

The BBC chairman said he was “not involved in making a loan, or arranging a guarantee, and I did not arrange any financing”.

He said he introduced Mr Blyth to “the relevant official in government” because he [Mr Blyth] “wanted to check with me what the right way to go about this could be”.

Mr Sharp said he wanted to ensure that “appropriate guidelines have been followed within the BBC since I have joined”.

His personal interests would be reviewed by the BBC Board’s nominations committee “when it next meets”, he said, without giving a timeline.

Mr Sharp also committed to having the findings of the review published “in the interest of transparency”.

He described the scrutiny as a “distraction for the organisation” and told staff “I’m really sorry about it all”.

In a statement issued over the weekend, Mr Johnson strongly refuted any suggestion his decision to hand his long-time friend the BBC role was influenced by the loan discussions.

He said he had never received or sought financial advice from him and that there “has never been any remuneration or compensation…for this or any other service”.

A spokesman added: “Mr Johnson did indeed have dinner with Mr Sharp, whom he has known for almost 20 years, and with his cousin. So what? Big deal.

“All Mr Johnson’s financial arrangements have been properly declared and registered on the advice of officials.”

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