‘Evasive’ Boris Johnson broke lobbying rules in Venezuela trip

LONDON — Boris Johnson failed to answer questions about his relationship with a hedge fund that helped organize a trip to meet Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Britain’s revolving door watchdog declared Friday.

The former prime minister was branded “evasive” and in breach of Westminster lobbying rules by the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba), which advises politicians and top officials about post-government jobs.

It said Johnson did not declare a prior relationship with hedge fund Merlyn Advisors, whose co-founder Maarten Petermann also attended the February meeting in Venezuela.

“Given the evasive nature of your replies, your failure to answer specific questions put to you, or provide the context of your relationship with Merlyn Advisors, the committee has formed the view that there has been a breach of the government’s business appointment rules,” Acoba Chair Eric Pickles wrote in a letter to Johnson published Friday.

Johnson previously sought advice from the watchdog over work with Merlyn Advisors as an independent contractor back in September 2023. But that application was withdrawn after Johnson said he would not take up the work.

The Sunday Times reported that Johnson’s February trip saw him speak to Maduro about the war in Ukraine and discuss conditions for normalizing relations with the U.K., which does not accept the legitimacy of Maduro’s administration.

In his letter to Johnson, Acoba Chair Eric Pickles said there was a “reasonable concern that you were acting for Merlyn Advisors in a capacity that would be considered advisory — which Acoba would expect an application for.”

Acoba rules say former ministers must not announce or take up any new appointments until the committee has provided advice.

Rules ‘unenforceable’

In a separate letter to Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden — whose department must decide whether to take any action against Johnson — Pickles said Johnson has been “evasive” with the watchdog, avoided answering specific questions and “refused to be open” about the relationship.

Pickles, who has been pushing for a shake-up of Acoba rules long branded toothless, said the current set-up depends on the cooperation of applicants and departments, and warned the rules “no longer have relevance in the modern world and are unenforceable to applicants determined to ignore them.”

Johnson’s spokesperson declined to comment. The Cabinet Office did not respond to a request for comment.