An investigation has been launched into the circumstances in which a “close friend” of Boris Johnson was awarded more than £100,000 in public money.
Jennifer Arcuri, an American former model turned tech entrepreneur, was given privileged access to three foreign trade missions, led by the now-prime minister, after her company 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.
The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) said it was now investigating the circumstances surrounding the grant. A spokesperson said in a statement: “Funding for this scheme was awarded through open and fair competition.
“We regularly monitor grant initiatives and treat any allegations of impropriety with the utmost seriousness.”
Johnson has declined to clarify the nature of his relationship with Arcuri, an American who moved to London seven years ago.
On Monday he also declined chances to deny allegations made in the Sunday Times report, during sustained questioning on his flight to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, PA Media reported.
First asked on board the RAF Voyager whether he would refute the claims, he said: “I’m here to talk about what we are doing in the UN and this country’s commitment to tackling climate change stopping the loss of biodiversity and our role as serving as a bridge between our European friends…”
He did not directly respond to six questions, including whether the allegations could be solved with a public enquiry.
When asked to clarify the nature of their relationship, he replied: “If you will forgive me we are going to talk exclusively about what we are doing here in the UN.”
Shadow minister for the Cabinet Office Jon Trickett has called for the PM to fully explain the matter.
“Boris Johnson must now give a full account of his actions in response to these grave and most serious allegations of the misuse of public money in his former role as mayor of London,” the Labour MP said.
“The public has a right to know how and why these funds were used for the benefit of a close personal friend without on the face of it legitimate reason.”
Arcuri, 34, did not comment to the Sunday Times, which broke the story about the nature of her relationship with the PM.
“Any grants received by my companies and any trade mission I joined were purely in respect of my role as a legitimate businesswoman,” she said in a statement to the paper.
The newspaper reported that Arcuri’s business - Innotech - 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, according to the Sunday Times, and another £100,000 grant from the Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) earlier this year.
Downing Street has declined to comment.