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BBC chair quits over links to loans for Boris Johnson — the man who appointed him

The headquarters of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in London on Apr 28, 2023, the day BBC chairperson Richard Sharp resigned.
Daniel Leal
AFP via Getty Images
The headquarters of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in London on Apr 28, 2023, the day BBC chairperson Richard Sharp resigned.

LONDON – The head of the BBC has resigned over his failure to disclose an alleged financial favor he did two years ago for then-Prime Minister Boris Johnson – the man who appointed him.

Scandals involving Johnson's turbulent time in office continue to plague the UK's ruling Conservative Party and British institutions. And this one comes at a time when many media outlets – especially those that receive public funding, as the British Broadcasting Corporation does – are struggling to prove their editorial independence at a time of heightened political disinformation.

BBC Chairman Richard Sharp is a former investment banker and longtime donor to the Conservative Party. He was nominated to the BBC's top job in early 2021 by Johnson, who is also a friend.

At the time, Sharp failed to disclose how he'd helped arrange a meeting for another friend – a distant cousin of Johnson's – to offer a $1 million loan to the prime minister.

After the Times of London revealed this potential conflict of interest this past January, the government opened an investigation. On Friday, it published its report, concluding that Sharp had indeed breached rules.

"There is a risk of a perception that Mr. Sharp was recommended for appointment because he assisted... the former prime minister in a private financial matter," the report says.

Minutes later, Sharp resigned.

He says the conflict of interest was "inadvertent" and unintentional and should not "invalidate" his appointment to the BBC. In a statement, he apologized but said he was nevertheless resigning to "prioritize the interests of the BBC."

"I have championed the importance of the BBC as a well-funded and impartial public service broadcaster," Sharp said.

He says he'll stay on through June, to allow the government time to find a successor.

Sharp is the latest in a long line of British public figures brought down by dealings with Johnson – who himself was forced to resign from office last year amid scandals over money, ethics and illegal parties during COVID lockdown.

Meanwhile, the BBC is struggling financially. The government has frozen its budget for the next two years, and is changing the way the institution is funded.

In recent years, it's faced allegations of improperly close ties to the Conservative Party, which controls the UK government and the BBC budget.

Sharp is a former mentor of the current Conservative prime minister, Rishi Sunak, dating back to their days together at Goldman Sachs.

His resignation saves Sunak from possibly having to fire him.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Lauren Frayer covers India for NPR News. In June 2018, she opened a new NPR bureau in India's biggest city, its financial center, and the heart of Bollywood—Mumbai.