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US businesswoman admitted affair with Boris Johnson: UK report

[LONDON] A US businesswoman who received thousands of pounds from a government agency that Boris Johnson controlled when he was mayor of London told friends that she and Mr Johnson were having a sexual affair, according to a British news report this weekend.

The revelation in The Sunday Times of London intensifies the scandal hanging over Mr Johnson as he tries to navigate an impasse in Parliament over his Brexit plans. Several agencies are investigating accusations that he gave favourable treatment to the businesswoman, Jennifer Arcuri, now 34, by helping her secure sponsorship money and taking her on trade missions that she was not qualified for.

On Friday, a monitor at London's City Hall referred Mr Johnson to a police watchdog for a possible investigation into the case, saying that the accusations, if true, could amount to misconduct in public office.

Both Mr Johnson and Ms Arcuri have denied any wrongdoing. And a government minister from Mr Johnson's Conservative Party dismissed that as "an obviously politicised complaint."

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The monitor was a career official who also worked at City Hall during Mr Johnson's tenure as London mayor, from 2008 to 2016.

The new revelations were published as Mr Johnson arrived with his girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, in Manchester this weekend for the opening of the Conservative Party conference. The conference has been overshadowed by a Supreme Court ruling on Tuesday (Sept 24) that Mr Johnson's suspension of Parliament at the height of the Brexit crisis was "unlawful".

Mr Johnson was forced to return to the House of Commons three weeks earlier than planned to face defiant lawmakers who are determined to stop him from pulling Britain out of the European Union without a deal governing future relations.

The Sunday Times article this weekend fills in some details of an episode that has hounded Mr Johnson during what has been a wobbly start to his leadership.

The newspaper reported that Ms Arcuri had confided to four friends that she was having an affair with Mr Johnson when he was mayor, a relationship that began soon after they met in 2012, while he was campaigning for his second term as mayor.

Mr Johnson was 47 and in his second marriage at the time. Ms Arcuri was 27 and finishing a graduate programme in business in London.

The newspaper quotes as one of its sources David Enrich, who was an employee of The Wall Street Journal in 2013 when, he said, he interviewed Ms Arcuri for an article about her business partner. He said he had been told by her friends about the alleged relationship between her and Mr Johnson. Mr Enrich is now a business editor at The New York Times.

Earlier, The Sunday Times reported that Mr Johnson often paid afternoon visits to the apartment where Ms Arcuri lived in East London while on breaks from his duties as mayor. The article was illustrated with a photograph of Ms Arcuri using a dancing pole fitted in her home.

Mr Johnson gave Ms Arcuri's first venture a major lift by appearing at four networking events for entrepreneurs and policymakers that her company had organised, the newspaper said.

She received £11,500 (S$19,533) in sponsorship money from an organisation that was overseen by Mr Johnson as mayor. And she was given coveted spots on trade missions with the mayor to Malaysia, New York, Singapore and Tel Aviv. In some instances, Mr Johnson's office intervened to add her to the roster even though she did not meet the criteria for trade delegates, the report said.

Another business later set up by Ms Arcuri, Hacker House, was awarded a central government grant of £100,000 in February, before Mr Johnson became prime minister.

An unnamed Conservative Party activist told the newspaper that Ms Arcuri had acknowledged the affair and that, even when other people were around, played along with jokes about their status.

After initially declining to discuss the accusations, Mr Johnson told a reporter from the broadcaster ITV, "Absolutely everything was done with full propriety and in accordance with proper procedures".

Mr Johnson was also accused this weekend of squeezing the thighs of two women seated on either side of him at a private lunch in 1999 at the headquarters of The Spectator, a right-wing magazine where he was editor at the time.

Charlotte Edwardes, a columnist for The Sunday Times, said that Mr Johnson had grabbed high on her thigh, touching "enough inner flesh beneath his fingers" to make her "sit suddenly upright". She said the woman sitting on the other side of Mr Johnson later told her that he did the same to her.

The prime minister's office denied the allegation, saying it was "untrue". Mr Johnson's serial philandering has frequently made headlines in Britain. Earlier in his career, he was fired from the Conservative Party's leadership team after falsely denying reports of an extramarital affair.

But the new accusations have put Mr Johnson under a level of scrutiny that he has rarely received during his turbulent career.