Commentary on Political Economy

Thursday 29 February 2024



Why did Sunak accept private jet ride from alleged fraudster?

Labour urging prime minister to give ‘full and honest account’ after entrepreneur who is embroiled in a civil case with investors paid for a trip on plane
Rishi Sunak accepted a ride on an Embraer Legacy 500 business jet aeroplane like this one
Rishi Sunak accepted a ride on an Embraer Legacy 500 business jet aeroplane like this one ALAMY

Rishi Sunak is facing questions about his judgment after he accepted a private jet trip from a controversial businessman.

The prime minister has so far accepted more than £100,000 worth of private jet and helicopter rides from Tory donors since taking office, mainly to travel to party events.

The most contentious are flights worth £38,500 taken by Sunak and aides to Conservative conferences in Wales and Scotland in April last year.

The journey was paid for by Akhil Tripathi, a 39-year-old medical devices entrepreneur who has sought to sell to the NHS, but is being sued by investors for alleged fraud.

Tripathi has given more than £150,000 to the Conservatives and attended a series of events with ministers. After the flight Sunak sent him a hand-written note saying, “Dear Akhil, thank you for arranging the use [of] your plane”.


The aircraft, an Embraer Legacy 500, was in fact rented from a charter company, Centreline. Tripathi’s company, Signifier Medical Technologies, is loss-making and last year auditors said there was a “material uncertainty” about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern without further investment.

Tory sources said they used such open source information in deciding to accept money from Tripathi, but Labour is urging the prime minister to give a “full and honest account” of the donation.

It was initially registered under Tripathi’s name, only for the donor’s identity to be changed to Balderton Medical Consultants, a company with close links to Tripathi, before being re-registered in Tripathi’s name.

Tripathi made the donations in a private capacity and is said by his lawyers to have given money to the Conservatives because of their focus on enterprise.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow attorney-general, said that “the prime minister is clearly keen to travel by private jets and helicopters whenever he can” but needed to give “full and honest account” of the donation.

“Rishi Sunak needs to explain why — just a few weeks after he met Mr Tripathi, wrote to thank him for his donation, and publicly declared him as the source of that donation — he then replaced his name in the register of interests with another company’s name, and only changed the declaration back again after the Labour Party started asking questions. The behaviour of the prime minister over this donation has gone from curious to dubious to downright suspicious,” she said.

Signifier Medical Technologies raised tens of millions of pounds from investors for innovations including an anti-snoring device, but after the donation to Sunak Tripathi fell out with his fellow directors.

An investigation by a barrister appointed by the board, Julian Wilson, recommended disciplinary action against Tripathi over allegations of share sales to his sister without disclosing the relationship.


Tripathi faces a High Court action from Waha Capital over its $20 million purchase of a stake in the company from his sister. The claim alleges “fraudulent intent” and “deceit” in not revealing that the seller was his sister. Tripathi denies the claims.

Sunak has also declared five other flights in planes or helicopters last year that were paid for by Tory donors including Richard Harpin, the HomeServe founder, and a company controlled by the logistics magnate Steve Parkin.

When asked about Tripathi’s donation in the past, Sunak has said: “All my declarations are made in the usual way according to the usual processes.”

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