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Revealed: Suella Braverman accused of new ministerial code breaches over Rwanda links

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Suella Braverman is facing fresh allegations of ministerial code breaches over her failure to formally disclose years of previous work with the Rwandan government.

The home secretary co-founded a charity called the Africa Justice Foundation with Cherie Blair, which trained Rwandan government lawyers between 2010 and 2015.

Several people the charity worked with are now key members of President Paul Kagame's government and are involved in the UK's £140m deal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.

Ms Braverman did not officially disclose her previous links to the country when appointed home secretary in 2022, despite the deal being a linchpin of the government's migration policy and ongoing legal challenges alleging politically-driven human rights violations including torture, murder and kidnappings.

One former minister told The Independent that the home secretary "never mentioned" her work with the charity and should have been "upfront and transparent", while two former standards chiefs said Ms Braverman should have formally disclosed her former role.

Ms Braverman resigned from her post as director of the Africa Justice Foundation weeks before being elected to parliament, and did not declare her previous role to Home Office permanent secretary Matthew Rycroft last year.

A source close to the home secretary said it was not necessary for her to disclose her previous work, adding: "This was charity work carried out by Ms Braverman before she was an MP, and for which she wasn't paid."

But the omission has sparked calls for Rishi Sunak to widen a potential investigation into a speeding scandal, just seven months after she resigned for breaking the ministerial code through her use of official documents.

Sir Alistair Graham, former head of the Committee of Standards on Public Life, told The Independent: "If the Rwanda policy was there when she produced a declaration of interest, and did not include it, then I would have thought that could be a breach of the ministerial code.

Suella Braverman's official visit to Rwanda in March was her third visit to the country (PA Wire)

"It would be a personal failure that the prime minister should address, and may want to consult his ethics adviser on."

Sir Alex Allan, the former adviser on ministerial standards who quit under Boris Johnson, said the home secretary's past work should have been declared after she became responsible for the Rwanda deal.

"I would have thought that it would be an issue that she would have had to discuss with the Home Office permanent secretary," he added. "There would have been an internal discussion."

The former minister said Ms Braverman should have referenced any previous work with the Rwandan government to colleagues: "It absolutely has to be flagged - this is all part of the ministerial code."

During a Commons debate over Ms Braverman's alleged attempt to have civil servants arrange a speeding awareness course on Tuesday, the chair of parliament's human rights committee chair questioned whether her "rosy-eyed view of Rwanda's human rights record" had been influenced.

SNP MP Joanna Cherry asked whether her robust defence of the country "has anything to do with her undisclosed links to the Rwandan government", and if the new potential ministerial code breach would be included in any inquiry.

Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin said the home secretary's work was "a charitable endeavour before she entered parliament", while the prime minister's official spokesman told journalists there were "no plans" for an investigation into her disclosures.

Suella Braverman resigned from the Africa Justice Foundation weeks before being elected as a Conservative MP in the 2015 general election (Companies House)

Labour's deputy leader Angela Rayner asked "how many strikes" it would take for Mr Sunak to sack his home secretary, adding: "After days of dither and delay, the prime minister still has not decided whether his ethics adviser should investigate."

The ministerial code states that ministers "must ensure that no conflict arises, or could reasonably be perceived to arise, between their public duties and their private interests".

"It is the personal responsibility of each minister to decide whether and what action is needed to avoid a conflict or the perception of a conflict, taking account of advice received from their permanent secretary and the Independent Adviser on Ministers' interests," the document adds.

Official guidelines state that ministers must complete a written declaration on appointment, which must be "comprehensive and, even in instances where a particular interest may not appear relevant to the office held, err on the side of disclosure so that the fullest advice can be offered in return".

An excerpt from the financial accounts of the Africa Justice Foundation from its first year of operation, signed by Suella Braverman under her maiden name (Charity Commission)

Directorships and links to charities are listed as examples of information that must be given, and The Independent understands that any past connections with foreign governments are particularly sensitive.

The Liberal Democrats said Ms Braverman was "embroiled in scandal after scandal". Chief whip Wendy Chamberlain said: "This looks like yet another potential breach of the ministerial code from the home secretary.

"Rishi Sunak must immediately request his ethics adviser to investigate these latest allegations. This situation is becoming farcical."

The chief justice of Rwanda's supreme court sat on the Africa Justice Foundation board that Ms Braverman chaired, when she was a practising barrister working under her maiden name Suella Fernandes.

Records obtained by The Independent show that the charity received more than £300,000 in donations and spent the bulk of the funding on a scholarship scheme seeing Rwandan government lawyers sent to British universities.

A 2011 document signed by Ms Braverman said the Africa Justice Foundation aimed to "strengthen the rule of law" in Rwanda and help the country "achieve its aims for justice sector reform".

It said the charity ran training as part of the government's "strategy to strengthen its justice sector", and provided services for both lawyers and judges that were a "priority for the Rwandan government".

The charity built on work by a Conservative Party volunteering project backed by Rwandan president Paul Kagame, seen with Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell during a celebration for the 10th anniversary of Project Umubano in Kigali on 11 August 2017 (Paul Kagame/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Despite the Africa Justice Foundation's name, all of its in-person work abroad was carried out in Rwanda and the country remained its core focus, although the scholarship programme was later broadened to lawyers from Sierra Leone, Ghana and Ethiopia.

By the time Ms Braverman resigned her directorship in 2015, Rwandan media reported that 19 alumni were serving in government institutions including the Office of the President, the Office of the Prime Minister and Rwanda Law Reform Commission, and research by The Independent shows that some now hold senior posts in the country's Ministry of Justice.

The Africa Justice Foundation ceased operation shortly after Ms Braverman's departure and was formally removed from the Charity Commission register in 2016.

The home secretary has alluded to previous visits to Rwanda with a Conservative Party volunteering scheme while being grilled on its human rights record and suitability for receiving asylum seekers from the UK in parliament, without providing detail.

In November, she told the Home Affairs Committee: "I have actually visited Rwanda twice, quite a while ago around 2010 or 2009, and I've always found Rwanda to be a very inspiring country actually."

A spokesperson for the home secretary said she had not disclosed her involvement in the Africa Justice Foundation and the nature of its work training Rwandan government lawyers because it was not necessary.

They said Ms Braverman did not make any submissions to colleagues on the country's suitability for the asylum deal struck when she was attorney general, and had not discussed her former role publicly since becoming home secretary because it was "not relevant".

The spokesperson denied that her view that Rwanda is a "fundamentally safe and secure country" had been influenced, or that she had deliberately concealed links to the country.

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