April 13, 2018 / 10:14 AM / 13 days ago

Britain's health minister apologises for failing to declare luxury flats purchase

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain’s health minister, Jeremy Hunt, has apologised after he broke the government’s own anti-money laundering rules by failing to declare his stake in a company used to buy luxury flats.

FILE PHOTO: Britain's Secretary of State for Health Jeremy Hunt walks towards Downing Street in London, May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo

Hunt, one of Britain’s wealthiest politicians, set up the firm Mare Pond Properties in September last year with his wife. It was later used to buy seven flats along the south coast of England.

He breached anti-money laundering rules after failing to declare his 50 percent stake in the property firm for six months to Companies House, the body which overseas British corporate records. The failure to declare company ownership is a criminal offence that can result in a fine or up to two years in prison.

The minister also failed to disclose his stake in the firm on parliament’s register of members interests within the specified 28 days.

He later corrected both errors and apologised to the parliamentary authorities. He is not under any police investigation.

A spokesman for Hunt said his failure to declare his stake in the company was an “honest administrative mistake” and that he did not gain financially as a result.

“Jeremy accepts these mistakes are his responsibility and has apologised to the parliamentary authorities,” the spokesman said.

The opposition Labour Party says it will refer Hunt to the parliamentary commissioner for standards over the apparent delay in declaring his property dealings.

“He should have had the decency to refer himself rather than sweep this under the carpet,” said Jon Trickett, Labour’s shadow secretary for the Cabinet Office.

Hunt is widely tipped as a potential successor to Prime Minister Theresa May and previously said he was considering entering the race to be prime minister in 2016 after Britain’s shock decision to leave to European Union.

In June, Hunt will become the longest-serving health secretary in British history and he has pushed through unpopular health care reforms, including a long-running dispute with junior doctors over new contracts.

A spokesman for May said the matter was now closed.

“Jeremy has rightly apologised for an administrative oversight, and as the Cabinet Office have made clear there has been no breach of the ministerial code,” the spokesman said.

When Mare Pond Properties was originally incorporated only Hunt’s wife was named in the documents.

Since 2016, anti-money-laundering rules require that anyone with more than a 25 percent stake should declare their interest.

Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Editing by Alistair Smout and Alison Williams

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