September 25, 2019
Fresh questions have been raised about how a “close friend” of Boris Johnson was awarded more than £100,000 of public money meant for UK businesses after phone calls to her company were apparently answered in California.
Phone Calls To UK-Funded Firm Of Boris Johnsons Friend Answered From California
Jennifer Arcuri, an American former model turned tech entrepreneur, was reportedly given privileged access to three foreign trade missions led by Johnson while he was London mayor, while her firm Hacker House won a grant earlier this year intended for “English-based” businesses.
A report in The Sunday Times said the address used to apply for the grant was a UK-based property no longer associated with her.
Answering an urgent question on the matter in the Commons on Wednesday, Digital Minister Matt Warman insisted there was “no reason to think there is anything untoward” about the grant, and pointed to the fact the firm “is a company with a British phone number”.
But shadow culture secretary Tom Watson questioned the grant after one of his aides tried calling the British number - 020 8123 1379 - and was told by the woman answering the phone they were based in California.My office just rang this ‘UK number’ for Hacker House. A woman in California picked up. https://t.co/8tztbNUYhC— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) September 25, 2019This DCMS fund is specifically designed to promote homegrown U.K. cyber security companies. Why has £100k tax payer’s money been given to a Californian company? #HackerHousepic.twitter.com/PJeMVw10Xx— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) September 25, 2019Today I've asked a series of questions about Boris Johnson, a £100k DCMS grant to #HackerHouse, and his connection to that company. These are fundamental questions of character and suitability for high office. I am determined to get the answers. #Parliamentpic.twitter.com/btYR3vVPQC— Tom Watson (@tom_watson) September 25, 2019When HuffPost UK phoned the number to ask where the firm was based, this publication was told by a woman with an American accent: “I can’t give you that information at the moment” and “it’s a private address”.
Earlier in the Commons, Watson said it was “very difficult” to see how the company fulfilled the criteria for the grants, and asked whether the PM was “capable of restraining himself”.
The broader questions, he argued, needed answering “because they keep coming back to the current prime minister”, adding: “The issue of whether he has represented the interests of this company or other companies require scrutiny.” 
He added: “This is fundamentally a question of character and of suitability. Is the prime minister of sufficient character to occupy high office and disburse public funds, is he suitable?
“Does he understand that the trappings and privileges of power come with restrictions and restraints? Is he capable of restraining himself?
“The truth is that our prime minister does reckless things. He is a man whose character renders him unsuitable and unfit for the office he holds.
“I want answers to these questions but we all know the broader essential truth, we can all see who Boris Johnson is.”
Warman replied: “The prime minister has had no role whatsoever in this application.”
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) is investigating the circumstances surrounding the grant.
Johnson has said “everything was done with complete propriety” while he was mayor, and declined to clarify the nature of his relationship with Arcuri, and declined the opportunity to deny any allegations in the Sunday Times report.
Arcuri, 34, told the Sunday Times in a statement: “Any grants received by my companies and any trade mission I joined were purely in respect of my role as a legitimate businesswoman.”
The newspaper reported that another business belonging to Arcuri - Innotech - first received £10,000 in sponsorship from London & Partners, the mayor’s promotional agency, in 2013.
A further £15,000 was said to have come in 2014 under a government programme designed to encourage foreign entrepreneurs in the UK.
Then her firm Hacker House was given a £100,000 cyber skills grant from DCMS earlier this year.Related... Boris Johnson Breaks Silence Over Controversial Conflict Of Interest Claims
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