BBC chair's appointment to be reviewed after Boris Johnson loan questions

FILE PHOTO: Former British PM Johnson at Gatwick Airport near London

By Paul Sandle

LONDON (Reuters) -Britain's public appointments watchdog said on Monday it will review the way in which Richard Sharp was picked to chair the BBC following questions about his role in securing a loan for then-prime minister Boris Johnson just before his selection.

Sharp, a former Goldman Sachs banker, said he had introduced an old friend who wanted to help Johnson to a government official in late 2020, but his involvement went no further.

Both Sharp and Johnson have been facing questions after the Sunday Times reported that Sharp helped arrange a guarantee for a loan of up to 800,000 pounds ($988,240) for Johnson.

The Commissioner for Public Appointments, William Shawcross, said in a letter to opposition lawmaker Lucy Powell that he would review the appointment to ensure it was conducted in line with the governance code for public appointment.

The BBC said it played no role in the recruitment of the chair and any questions were a matter for the government.

Sharp, however, said the broadcaster's nominations committee would check that all appropriate guidelines had been followed within the BBC since he joined.

He had applied to chair the BBC around the time of the introduction of old friend Sam Blyth, and was offered the role in January 2021.

Sharp said in a letter to the BBC's staff on Monday that he did not want the issue to distract from the challenges faced by the broadcaster.

"I was not involved in making a loan, or arranging a guarantee, and I did not arrange any financing," he said in the letter, released by the BBC.

"What I did do was to seek an introduction of (an old friend) Sam Blyth to the relevant official in government."

He said he had agreed with government officials that to avoid any conflict, he would have nothing further to do with the matter. Blyth is also Johnson's distant cousin.

The Sunday Times said a loan was finalised in February 2021, with Blyth's role as guarantor declared internally the following month.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said on Monday that the appointment process was rigorous and independent. "It's transparent and published online and Mr Sharp's appointment went through that full process," he told reporters.

Johnson told Sky News on Monday that the controversy was "absolute nonsense".

"Let me just tell you Richard Sharp is a good and wise man but he knows absolutely nothing about my personal finances," he said.

Sharp said the government had confirmed he was appointed on merit and the recruitment process was followed appropriately.

($1 = 0.8095 pounds)

(Additional reporting by Muvija M and Kylie MacLellan; writing by Paul Sandle. Editing by Sharon Singleton)