Corruption

Inside Story:  Rogue Academics in Sri Lanka – Part 2

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In his response to our first part of this series, Prof. A. Rameez, Vice Chancellor, Professor in Sociology, South Eastern University of Sri Lanka, Oluvil, has said the following in an email. “As I was engaged in an official duty over the last two days, I couldn’t write to you. I know that you have published an article referring to my academic integrity in your website yesterday. You could have sought my clarification on the contents of the article before being published in your website. I just wonder who this investigative journalist is. However, many people are in the pursuit of tarnishing the image of University in the public domain due to various reasons. Hence, he may also have some ulterior motives behind his move. Having said that, I am now consulting people to legally approach this matter.”

Editor’s Note: As far as ethical journalism is concerned, it is our responsibility to publish his response in full without any redactions, stressing that the Vice-Chancellor must have known that questioning the author’s details was indecent. However, we as the editorial board wish to emphasize again that Sri Lanka Guardian always welcome responses from the named parties in this part of the series as well.

Rogue Academics’ Behavioral Intension to Recycle Research Fraudulence: A Study of a duplicate publication of plagiarism by Professor A. Rameez, the Vice Chancellor of South Eastern University of Sri Lanka

Less important quote for the sake of looking fancy: “Here he used his talents for deviousness and vitriol in a more socially acceptable way, successfully conducting a major campaign against counterfeiting, even sending several men to their death on the gallows” – Stephen Hawking, A Brief History of Time.

In part one of this series, the readers were presented with some solid evidence for some serious research fraudulences committed by the current Vice Chancellor of South Eastern University of Sri Lanka (SEUSL). Now that we have the audience sufficiently oriented, we will proceed on to gradually expose more and more of the research fraudulences and academic malpractices that are plaguing this institution of higher education, thanks to the likes of intellectual conmen like A. Rameez.

The recent article covered the plagiarism contained in the two publications below by A. Rameez:

  1. Rameez, A., M. Riswan, and N. Lumna. “Ageing and health seeking behaviour: a medical sociological approach to Nintavur divisional secretariat, Sri Lanka.” (2015).
  2. Rameez, A. “Disasters and social capital in Sri Lanka: a conceptual and theoretical analysis.” (2016).

In this article we focus on some further findings on research fraudulence by A. Rameez, who is serving as a professor in sociology since 2019 and the vice chancellor of SEUSL since 2021.

Evidence in Summary:

  • A. Rameez published in 2016 part of his M.Phil. research conducted until 2010. This 9-page long publication text contained stolen text for three pages.
  • A. Rameez re-published the same 2016 article, a 100% copy, in a different journal with the same stolen content.

A. Rameez, being the sole author, has published in 2019 an article in Volume 7 Issue No. 1 of the print-only journal “Journal ofClassical Thamizh: A Quarterly International Multilateral Thamizh Journal (Arts & Humanities)” (Tamil name: செம்மொழித் தமிழ்: பன்னாட்டுப் பன்முகத் தமிழ் காலாண்டு ஆய்விதழ் (கலை & மனிதவியல்)) (ISSN: 2321-0737). The title of the article, not-so-surprisingly for us at this stage of our understanding on the workings of academically degenerate small-brains, is “Disasters and social capital in Sri Lanka: a conceptual and theoretical analysis”. Interestingly, this 12 pages long article by A. Rameez is the only English-language article in this entire Classical Thamizh journal issue with 278 pages. On a different note, the publisher’s note for authors on their website (link https://rajapublications.wixsite.com/journals/author-centre) requires authors to submit content for 7 pages minimum for each article, yet there exist articles that are only 3 pages long – a possible indication on the compromising nature of the journal itself. This article, or the version-with-zero-changes to be precise, has been published in 2019, about three years after the item 2 covered in our previous article was published. It is worthwhile noting that the content of this article can be considered as a publication of a part of his research conducted for his M.Phil. degree – a degree he was granted after his claims for years-long research study following his defense of a dissertation written based on his research work. It is also interesting to note that A. Rameez published the item 2 covered in our previous article after about 5 years. The relevant timeline is summarized below:

  • 2010: A. Rameez graduates with M.Phil. after defending his dissertation
  • 2016: A. Rameez publishes an article titled “Disasters and social capital in Sri Lanka: a conceptual and theoretical analysis” in KALAM -International Research Journal
  • 2019: A. Rameez publishes an article titled “Disasters and social capital in Sri Lanka: a conceptual and theoretical analysis” in Journal of Classical Thamizh: A Quarterly International Multilateral Thamizh Journal (Arts & Humanities)

We find that the KALAM version of the article on social capital is hosted by the electronic repository of SEUSL libraries – link here (http://ir.lib.seu.ac.lk/handle/123456789/5251*). However, the Classical Tamil version of the same article is not included in the SEUSL e-repository, nor is it to be found in the Google Scholar and ResearchGate profiles of A. Rameez. However, we get to notice it in the Curriculum Vitae posted at the Faculty of Arts and Culture webpage of SEUSL – link here (https://www.seu.ac.lk/fac/staff/academic/fac/rameez/cv.pdf). This publication is listed as “Rameez, A. (2019). Disasters and Social Capital in Sri Lanka: A Conceptual and Theoretical Analysis, Classical Thamizh, Vol.07(01): 319-330, January-March 2019, Raja Publications, Tamil Nadu, India.” in the CV of A. Rameez.

In conclusion we now have evidence for what’s called ‘self-plagiarism’ in the language employed by UGC to describe various forms of plagiarism; or simply duplicate publication. Of interest is the fact that A. Rameez chose to duplicate-publish an article with three pages of raw plagiarized material! Even more interesting is that he had to publicize his plagiarism when publishing part of his research carried out for his postgraduate degree at two different points in time, once when it was 5 years past his M.Phil. graduation and once again when it was 9 years after his M.Phil. graduation – an evidence for sustained academic bankruptcy and persistent dishonesty of this rogue academic. For those either with a lack of capability to discern such simple mischief or with other forms of inexpressible guilt for similar academic offenses, we feel that there is an explicit need to restate here that the 2019 version of A. Rameez’s publication on Social Capital is a 100% copy of his 2016 version and that both of them contain three-pages-long plagiarized material from one single source (Hazleton & Kennan, 2000) in addition to other plagiarized content.

Is it that A. Rameez had already forgotten that he got his manuscript on social capital already published in the journal KALAM when he thought of publishing his thesis-inspired paper in Classical Thamizh in year 2019? Or was it something else? Perhaps a rush for publications before submitting his application/ self-evaluation-report for professorship in 2019? Or is it that A. Rameez considers that a publication in the Tamilnadu-based print-only journal would be looked at favorably than the version that appeared in the journal run by their own faculty? Rumor has it that A. Rameez got about 07 research articles published in the year 2019 alone by the publishing company of the journal Classical Thamizh, Raja Publications – we can get this count verified if and when SEUSL, a public authority currently headed by A. Rameez with A. Rameez himself functioning as the Designated Officer for Information, gets an opportunity in future to release the information on the list of publications attached along with his application for professorship. One wonders how much it costs to get published in the journal Classical Thamizh, how long it takes to get an article published there, what are the scrutinizing practices – including check for plagiarism – employed by the editors and finally how much of possibly reimbursed public funds had been effectively flushed out of the country as foreign currency in 2019 by A. Rameez!

Acts of self-plagiarizing duplicate publication of articles composed of content stolen from other published scholars can only be done by a Research Fraud who doesn’t have any sort of inhibition for intellectual theft and any sense of fear for losing honor. This leading SEUSL academician in sociology and a self-appointed apostle of research and publication must have well been aware that the Classical Thamizh version of his publication was only going to be available as a printed material and not on the internet (publisher’s website here: http://www.rajapublications.com/) whilst the KALAM version of his publication was to remain in the e-repository of South Eastern University of Sri Lanka (http://ir.lib.seu.ac.lk/handle/123456789/5251), thereby ruling out the possibility for any detection of his act of plagiarism using contemporary software solutions.

The figures below show the 2019 version of the print-only publication by A. Rameez, the content of which once belonged to the copyrighted journal KALAM.

CLICK HERE TO READ THE FULL TEXT OF THIS PART OF THE SERIES

Exclusive: The Booker laureate admits he keeps Rajpal’s manuscript

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Sri Lanka Guardian has sent a media query to Shehan Karunathilake but he is yet to respond. However, on behalf of the Sri Lankan origins booker prize winner, someone named “SK” has shared a message on social media stating that, “a claim has been made by a journalist in Colombo that the plot of my novel, ‘The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida’ was ‘stolen’ from a 56-page untitled ‘novella’ that he sent to me in 2011 seeking an author’s endorsement. His claim is both baseless and insulting.” This statement clearly accepted that the accused has received a manuscript from the author, Rajpal Abeynayake, and he has kept it for years.

“I have shared his email and the ‘novella’ manuscript with my lawyers who confirm that the claim of plagiarism is entirely unfounded and that the allegations made are libellous. I have also shared the ‘novella’ with my publishers – who confirm the texts bear no comparison whatsoever with my novel – there are no shared plots, characters nor text – and with the Booker Prize Foundation, so that they may be assured the claims are unfounded,” SK defended the case against Booker Prize Winner.

“We are glad to know that SK still keeps the original manuscript safe and he has given copies of the manuscript not only to his lawyers and publisher but also to Booker Prize Foundation,” said one of the senior lawyers in Colombo. Thus, Sri Lanka Guardian‘s inquiry to the Booker Prize Foundation a few days ago has yet to receive a response.  

“It is sad and disappointing that this statement has to be made. This should be a celebratory moment for Sri Lanka and its writers,” SK in his post attempted to earn sympathy.

Meanwhile, responding to the SK’s reaction, Rajpal Abeynayake says that personal insults unfounded in reality are ‘beneath this process’ and that he will not stoop so low as to respond to vicious and obnoxious third parties forwarding statements for some sort of vicarious titillation.

About the statement issued by SK so-called, presumably Shehan Karunatilaka, he says ‘let’s wait and see about the veracity of that, now that he has admitted receiving my manuscript’. Not only does he have my manuscript, but he also has it close at hand and handy to send to others too, says Rajpal.

Inside Story: Rogue Academics in Sri Lanka

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This investigative report is open for response as the accused have been named by the reporter-editors

As funny, stupid and pseudo-intellectual as it may sound, the above title of this article is not what I initially intended to give it. The originally intended title is along the lines of “A Case of Serial Plagiarism…” or something like When the Vice Chancellor is a Plagiarist – more on this in the later parts. Now welcome to some enlightenment.

Presented below is a summary of findings we had the misfortune to make after having a compelling urge to study the academic profile of this intellectual from South Eastern Sri Lanka: Professor Aboobacker Rameez. A. Rameez is currently the Vice Chancellor of South Eastern University of Sri Lanka since 2021 and a professor in sociology at this higher education institution since 2019. Some readers would also be familiar with the name from many op-ed articles he has authored for Colombo Telegraph, references to which can also be found at his Google Scholar profile page and Research Gate profile – maintained for a delicate balance between keeping it clean and being still stocked with stuff, reportedly due to Webometrics ranking requirements. Some of his newspaper-published scholarly works being listed in these research database profile pages were published by the online Tamil news website jaffnamuslim.com.      

While lacking the necessary tools and this being a pastime activity triggered initially by personal pursuits, and despite the attempts of the university administration headed by A. Rameez himself to repeatedly deny information on his publications he used for his promotion as a professor by merit in response to right-to-information requests, we were still able to find to our own shock and surprise the fact that serious acts of plagiarism and academic-mafia-like practices had been freely allowed in the most carefree ways.

Evidence in summary:

  • A. Rameez stole nearly 80% of the abstract of a published journal article covering actual research conducted in Nigeria and he published it as an abstract of his own work carried out in Sri Lanka
  • A. Rameez stole written content from another published, properly peer-reviewed Scopus-indexed journal article and composed about 3-pages long content, without a single modification, for his own article submitted to the journal run by his own faculty

A formal complaint regarding this matter has been made to the Council of South Eastern University of Sri Lanka via the Registrar of South Eastern University of Sri Lanka. All the council members of SEUSL have been presented with evidences of these offenses, which are termed Research Fraud in the language employed by UGC for describing offenses of this nature.

An extended summary of our findings is presented below for the amusement of the general public who are contributing financially and in various other ways directly or indirectly for the proliferation of activities of the sort that is being reported here.

  1. A. Rameez plagiarized nearly 80% of the abstract of O. Odaman et al. (2014)

A. Rameez, being the primary and corresponding author has published an abstract in the South Eastern University Arts Research Session 2015. The title of the Abstract is “Ageing and Health Seeking Behaviour: A Medical Sociological Approach to Nintavur Divisional Secretariat, Sri Lanka”. The following table shows a side-by side comparison of passages extracted from the abstract submitted by A. Rameez for publication against the abstract of a research article that had already been published.

Rameez et al. (2015)Odaman et al. (2014)
It focused on the most common health related problems of elderly: revealed where the elderly goes to seek medical care when sick, and those financially responsible for his/her medical needs.It focused on the most common health related problems of the elderly; revealed where the elderly goes to seek medical care when sick; and those financially responsible for his/her medical needs.
The findings show that, the majority of the elderly persons had age associated physical illnesses such as blood pressure, cardiac problems, diabetes, joint pains, kidney infections, cancer and tuberculosis that take a long time to heal.Majority of the elderly persons (62.7%) had age associated illnesses such as blood pressure, cardiac problems, diabetes, joint pains, kidney infections, cancer and tuberculosis that take a long time to heal.
More elderly males than female counterparts were found to have patronized traditional healers, resorted to self medication using local herbs or visit chemists’ shops whenever they were sick.More elderly males than their female counterparts were found to have patronized traditional healers, resorted to self medication using local herbs or visited chemists’ shops whenever they were sick.
This research suggested that, the government should puts in place programmes that would ensure good health behaviour and elderly people should be provided free, accessible and comprehensive health care in hospitals and other health care centres.It is recommended that elderly people should be provided free, accessible and comprehensive health care in hospitals and health centers because they would utilize the health services when available, accessible and affordable.

Notice that the work allowed to be published by the editorial committee of the Book of Abstracts of South Eastern University Arts Research Session (2015) makes the suggestion, as an outcome of the supposed research findings, that the elderly people should be provided free healthcare in Sri Lanka! We believe that it’s needless to say that unlike in the case of Nigeria, the Governments of Sri Lanka have been providing free healthcare for all of its citizens in all of Sri Lanka not only at the time this abstract was being presented and was being issued in print, possibly out of public funds, but since long before that until now and far into the future for sure.

If word counts are to be used as a crude estimate to indicate the severity of the rogue academic conduct with such a shallow level of sophistication in carefree plagiarism, we observe that of the 185 words that have been originally used for composing the abstract of Odaman et al., the abstract of Rameez et al. employs more than 80 percent of the words (149 out of 185) to compose itself.

The abstract published by Rameez et al. can be found in the Book of Abstracts published by SEUSL on 22nd December 2015.

This abstract can also be found at http://ir.lib.seu.ac.lk/handle/123456789/1532

The figure below portrays A. Rameez in the act, with hijacked text highlighted in yellow:

The work published by Odaman et al. can be found here. The article has been published in Vol. 7, No. 1 (2014), pp. 201-210 of International Review of Social Sciences and Humanities (ISSN 2248-9010 (Online), ISSN 2250-0715 (Print)).

The figure below shows how A. Rameez et al. did a stealth-mode robbery of the intellectual effort of Odaman et al., with the stolen text highlighted in yellow:

Anyone serious enough to access and look at the actual content of Odaman et al. would appreciate the true effort the original authors have put into their work despite what the title and abstract look like. And those familiar with social sciences will admit that often text itself is the very embodiment of ideas.

  1. A. Rameez published a journal article with 3 pages long content stolen straight from a journal article by Hazleton & Kennan (2000)

A. Rameez, being the sole author has published an article in KALAM -International Research Journal, Faculty of Arts and Culture, South Eastern University of Sri Lanka, Volume X Issue 1, 2016. The title of the Article is “Disasters and Social Capital in Sri Lanka: A Conceptual and Theoretical Analysis”.

A. Rameez’s Publication is available at http://ir.lib.seu.ac.lk/handle/123456789/5251  (available at SEUSL e-repository).

The figure below of the article by A. Rameez, with the stolen content highlighted in yellow, should indicate the proportionality of the content discovered to have been stolen word-for-word from just one single source (other stolen content not indicated):

A. Rameez has plagiarized for his publication from here (Scopus entry: Here )

A. Rameez’s publication (Page numbers 05 to 08 highlighted in Yellow) has copied the above mentioned publication by Vincent Hazleton and William Kennan (Social capital: reconceptualizing the bottom line; Corporate Communications: An International Journal Volume 5 . Number 2 . 2000. pp. 81-86) word for word from page numbers 82-84.

The figure below shows the proportionality of the content stolen word-for-word from the work of Hazleton & Kennan, with the portions in yellow being the stolen content.

Of about nine pages of writing contributed by A. Rameez for this journal issue, about three pages come straight from the composition of Hazleton and Kennan verbatim, even with citations as they appear in the work of the original authors, but without being listed in the list of references of the publication by A. Rameez! For example, we see the original article of Hazleton from year 2000 referring to articles by themselves from 1993, 1998 and 1999; but the article by A. Rameez only has the one by Hazleton from 2000 in his list of references, meaning that the readers (and obviously the reviewers of this SEUSL journal) would have no idea what those articles of Hazleton from 1993, 1998 and 1999 actually were/ are. Other examples include such questions of curious readership of Rameez on where they can actually locate the original works referred to as Monge (1987), Garfinkel (1967) etc., all of which, interestingly are properly listed at the end of the original, genuine work of Hazleton and Kennan (2000). Apart from this 3 pages long direct stealing of written scholarly work by Hazleton and Kennan that I have brought to light here, there are various other curiosity-provoking pointers to other possibly interesting findings that are possible from a thorough investigation on the rest of the 6 pages of this publication by A. Rameez; one such pointer for example is the curious question of what exactly Portes published along with Landolt in year 1996.

These two items above bring to light the evident lack of academic honesty & integrity on the part of Prof. A. Rameez and the evident lack of scrutiny and review practices of any level of rigor concerning the two publications above. It is interesting to note that we don’t see A. Rameez having published any work on healthcare seeking behaviour of the elderly other than the single abstract above plagiarizing the work of Odaman et al. It is also interesting to note that A. Rameez obtained his M.Phil. degree in 2010 by writing a dissertation titled “The Role of Social Capital in Disaster Management: A Study of a Tsunami Affected Coastal Village in Eastern Sri Lanka”, a work possibly very similar in theme to his publication in item 2 above (Disasters and Social Capital in Sri Lanka: A Conceptual and Theoretical Analysis); yet we find him after five years with the necessity to plagiarize to produce 3-pages long content for a journal article on a related topic.

Under these circumstances, it is evident that the intellectual con artist who produced the two fraudulent publications above is guilty of one of the gravest academic offenses: Plagiarism. Being non-hesitant, uninhibited and not-insightful about copying the published, reviewed works of other academics and scholars is a major evidence of academic bankruptcy of the person in concern. With such a history of Research Fraudulence, Professor A. Rameez being a Vice Chancellor of a Higher Education Institution, and thereby being the head/ chairperson/ overseeing authority/ supervising authority on almost all of its academic, academic-administrative and academic-disciplinary matters, can severely affect the academic and administrative integrity of the institution in question. This can lead to demolition of high standard academic culture, accountability and transparency in research and dissemination and the quality of the academic programs offered at the University.

Questions for the readers are below:

  1. What are the roles played by editors and reviewers (if any) of books of abstracts and journals published by the Faculty of Arts and Culture of SEUSL?
  2. What are the impacts on the undergraduate education and examination processes in this Sri Lankan state university
  3. When the Vice Chancellor is a demonstrated plagiarist and a research fraud?
  4. When a professor in a certain discipline is a demonstrated plagiarist and a research fraud?
  5. When an academic in general belonging a certain discipline is a demonstrated plagiarist and a research fraud?
  6. What are the impacts on the postgraduate education, postgraduate research programmes and examination processes in this Sri Lankan state university
  7. When the Vice Chancellor is a demonstrated plagiarist and a research fraud?
  8. When a professor in a certain discipline is a demonstrated plagiarist and a research fraud?
  9. When an academic in general belonging a certain discipline is a demonstrated plagiarist and a research fraud?
  10. What are the impacts on the academic administration processes including recruitment of BEST OF THE BEST academic staff and appointment of directors & heads of various divisions & departments at this Sri Lankan state university
  11. When the Vice Chancellor is a demonstrated plagiarist and a research fraud?
  12. When a professor in a certain discipline is a demonstrated plagiarist and a research fraud?
  13. What are the impacts on the disciplinary processes in academic matters at this Sri Lankan state university
  14. When the Vice Chancellor is a demonstrated plagiarist and a research fraud?
  15. When a professor in a certain discipline is a demonstrated plagiarist and a research fraud?

Exclusive:  Booker Prize Winner Robs My Manuscript – Rajpal

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“The recent Booker prize-winning book Seven Moons of Mali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilleke of Sri Lanka was blatantly plagiarized from a manuscript I sent the author in 2009. I sent it for review purposes only and I have the necessary documentation in this regard,” Rajpal Abeynayake, Attorney at Law, former Editor in Chief of Daily News and former Deputy Editor of Sunday Times, both are national newspapers in Colombo, told the Sri Lanka Guardian.

This is a very serious matter,” he pointed out. “Copyright law is in existence for a reason. Nobody can profit off the labours or the creativity of another person,” a lawyer by profession who is one of the most senior journalists in Sri Lanka, Mr Abeynayake added.

“In the West institutions such as the Booker Prize Committee would understand that rectitude and propriety in these matters are vital. Imagine if writers and other persons in the arts are given the lisence to crib from anyone as they please,” he observed.

“About this specific matter, yes, Shehan Karunatillaka stole my manuscript and based his novel on my work making cosmetic changes. It’s unconscionable. He should be held to account,” he demanded.

Sunak: What He Doesn’t Want You to Know

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Prime minister Rishi Sunak – reportedly the richest MP in Parliament – would be a boon for the financial lobby, tax justice campaigners have warned.

As talk turns to the next Conservative leader, the man trounced by Liz Truss just weeks ago is now the favourite to replace her. But experts say Sunak has not been transparent with his finances and that his hedge fund background raises questions about his commitment to fighting tax avoidance.

His profile has risen sharply since he became chancellor in early 2020, just weeks before the first lockdown began. But critics say a slick public marketing campaign has disguised a man with an ultra-privileged background, who is a committed Thatcherite ideologue.

Here’s the openDemocracy guide to the man who might just end up as the UK’s next prime minister, originally published in January 2022.

He went to private school

Sunak marked his first year in the Exchequer by tweeting two photos of himself: one as a child in school uniform, and one as the chancellor, standing outside Number 11.

He wrote: “Growing up I never thought I would be in this job (mainly because I wanted to be a Jedi) […] It’s been incredibly tough but thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way.”

The message carefully tip-toed around his privileged upbringing. Until the age of 11, Sunak attended Oakmount Preparatory School and then the Stroud Independent Prep School,  the latter of which now charges fees of up to £18,500 a year.

From there, he studied at King Edward VI School in Southampton (now £17,000 a year) before moving to Winchester College (now £43,335 a year).

Five chancellors and one prime minister have attended Winchester, one of England’s oldest public boarding schools and a long-standing rival of Eton, before Sunak.

“[Sunak’s] tweet made me smile,” said Richard Beard, an author whose latest book ‘Sad Little Men: Private Schools and the Ruin of England’ assesses the private education system and the many politicians that have been through it.

“The idea that, while studying in Winchester College, he would have never thought he would be at the top of government is very unlikely to me. Leadership qualities are one of the things that they teach you and you’re bound to think of your future in those terms.

“So he would definitely have thought that that is the kind of job that he’d be in, even if he didn’t explicitly think of chancellor of the exchequer.”

In media profiles, Sunak’s allies describe him as “immaculate”, “calm” and “organised”, qualities befitting of a former Winchester head of college. None volunteer that he is empathetic or compassionate. When given examples of people who are experiencing hardship in Parliament or press interviews, as he was on ‘Good Morning Britain’ last year, Sunak listed policies in response, but offered no consolations.

Beard, whose book is partly based on his own experiences, believes all-male boarding schools emotionally harden their students. To survive, he says, boys cannot show any vulnerability among their peers.

“If you repress emotion for yourself then ultimately it becomes very easy to repress feelings for other people,” he argues.

And while boarding schools like Winchester may prepare students well to advance in politics, Beard says they instil a worldview that is far from ordinary.

“Money is at the centre of it all because everyone knows it costs a lot of money, including the boys, but the actual money is abstract. The needs of everyday life are simply taken care of for you,” said Beard.

“How can you actually then think in terms of people struggling for five pounds and ten pounds?”

He cut benefits

Last year, Sunak was heavily criticised for axing a £20-a-week increase to Universal Credit that had helped some of the poorest families through the pandemic. More than 200,000 would have been pushed into poverty as a result of the cut, according to research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

Just weeks before the cut was confirmed in July, the chancellor requested planning permission to build a private swimming pool, gym and tennis court at the Grade II-listed Yorkshire manor that Sunak and his wife, Akshata Murty, purchased for £1.5m in 2015.

After several MPs from his own party spoke out against the Universal Credit cut, Sunak increased in-work benefits in his Autumn Budget – but not by enough to offset the cut.

He has a lot of money

The Sunaks’ Georgian mansion, where locals described attending parties with liveried staff pouring champagne from magnums, is not the only property they own. There is also the £7m, five-bedroom house in Kensington, west London; a flat, also in Kensington, that the couple reportedly keep “just for visiting relatives”; and an apartment in Santa Monica, California.

The chancellor’s extensive property portfolio is just one source of his wealth. After studying at Oxford University, Sunak went on to work for US investment bank Goldman Sachs for four years. He left to pursue a business degree at Stanford University in California, where he said meeting influential figures in the multi-billion US tech industry “left a mark” on him.

From there, Sunak had a stint working at hedge funds back in London. He was a partner at the Children’s Investment Fund (TCI) where he is believed to have made millions of pounds from a campaign that helped trigger the 2008 financial crisis.

Sir Chris Hohn, the fund’s founder paid himself a record £343m in the first year of the pandemic. TCI is ultimately owned by a company registered in the Cayman Islands, according to its accounts. Its philanthropic arm, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), donated £255m to charitable causes last year (full disclosure: openDemocracy has received funding from CIFF since 2019).

Sunak then left to co-found his own firm Theleme, which had an initial fund of £536m – and is also registered in the Cayman Islands.

His financial interests aren’t very transparent

The Cayman Islands are one of the world’s top offshore tax and secrecy havens. When an investment is made through a hedge fund in the Caymans, “nobody can possibly know where the money has come from”, said Alex Cobham, the chief executive of the Tax Justice Network.

Not all the money that goes through the Caymans is dirty, and hedge funds argue that they need to keep their investment strategies secret to be competitive.

Nevertheless, “it is probably the best, certainly the most reputable, way of allowing fairly questionable money in large volume to go into mainstream financial markets,” said Cobham.

An estimated $483bn (£357.62bn) a year is lost in cross-border tax abuse by multinational companies and by individuals hiding assets in havens like the Cayman Islands, according to the Tax Justice Network.

“Somehow, in the financial sector, we still have this idea that it’s basically smart to game the system. If these are the people, and the culture, that is coming into public life then we’ve got a real problem,” said Cobham.

When Sunak became a minister in 2019, he placed the investments he held from his years of working in finance into a ‘blind trust’. Such agreements are intended to avoid conflicts of interest by handing over control of assets to a third party, but whether that works in practice is questionable.

“These trusts don’t necessarily come with any legal mechanism to prevent the owner of the assets actually dictating what happens, or indeed seeing through any claimed blindness,” said Cobham.

“If politicians were willing to make the arrangement transparent, including the legal documents, we might have some confidence in them,” he adds.

Sunak has declared the trust in his entry on the Register of Ministers’ Financial Interests, but not the contents of it. The rest of his disclosures are remarkably minimal for a man with an estimated net worth of £200m.

Aside from the trust, he has listed his London flat and the fact his wife, Akshata Murty, owns a venture capital investment company, Catamaran Ventures, which the couple founded together in 2013.

Murty, who Sunak met at Stanford, is the daughter of Indian billionaire NR Narayana Murthy, who co-founded the IT company Infosys. Her shares in that firm are worth £430m alone, a fortune larger than the Queen’s and enough to make her one of the richest women in Britain.

The Murthy/Murty family (Narayana’s children have dropped the ‘h’ from their name) is reported to have invested part of their wealth through Catamaran Ventures, though how much is unclear. Sunak resigned his directorship of the company in 2015.

Ministers must declare the financial interests of their close family – including in-laws – which might give rise to a conflict, but Sunak has declared only one of the companies that his wife owns. A host of other family assets – including a £900m-a-year joint venture with Amazon in India, owned by his father-in-law – are not mentioned, according to the Guardian.

Sunak is said to have met with the government’s then head of propriety and ethics, Helen MacNamara, before becoming chancellor, to review what interests should be declared. MacNamara said she was satisfied with what had been registered at the time.

He has strong links to right-wing think tanks

Sunak reportedly led the hawks within the cabinet who opposed taking action when scientists recommended a circuit-breaker lockdown in September 2020, arguing that restrictions would be too economically damaging. Johnson delayed the decision and infections spiralled leading to a more punitive and lengthier lockdown in November.

“Sunak’s been the voice most consistently pushing for watering down of COVID restrictions in the cabinet. So, if you like, he is a kind of a logical continuation of that Thatcherite impulse within the Tories,” said Phil Burton-Cartledge, the author of ‘Falling Down: The Conservative Party and the Decline of Tory Britain’.

Soon after becoming an MP in 2015, Sunak wrote a report calling for the creation of ‘freeports’ around the UK for the right-wing think tank, Centre for Policy Studies (CPS), which was co-founded by Margaret Thatcher.

The policy idea – that tax-free, deregulated outposts will revitalise post-industrial coastal cities – was fittingly tried by the former PM in the 1980s, before being dropped by David Cameron in 2012 after proving unsuccessful.

Sunak also worked for another right-wing think tank, Policy Exchange – which, like CPS does not declare its donors – before becoming an MP, and has spoken at the Institute of Economic Affairs since becoming chancellor. All three think tanks have been consistently ranked among the least transparent in the UK.

He has a slick PR operation

During the pandemic, billionaires such as NR Narayana Murthy saw their wealth increase – Murthy’s fortune was up 35% to £2.3bn in 2021– while inequality between the richest and poorest grew. What, then, explains the seeming popularity of a former hedge fund manager like Sunak at a time in midst of a cost of living crisis?

Part of the answer might be the way Sunak has presented himself. Unusually for a chancellor, he hired the co-founder of a social media agency to manage his public image after he was appointed.

Since then, the content on his social media channels – from casual ‘ask me anything’-style YouTube videos to puppy pictures on Instagram – have more closely resembled a celebrity influencer than a frontrunner for Tory leader.

Jonathan Dean, an associate professor of politics at Leeds University, says this reflects broader political trends: “Forms of celebrity are increasingly prominent within politics, and that can either take the form of people who were conventional celebrities entering electoral politics, or it can also take the form of politicians trying to ape the publicity and performance traditionally associated with celebrity culture.”

Politicians draw on tactics from the world of celebrity influencers, Dean suggests, partly because they can mask their political views.

“A lot of politicians don’t have a particularly coherent or well-thought-through set of ideological commitments or kind of policy ideas. And I think certain forms of celebritisation allow them to circumvent that,” he said.

In Sunak’s case, it seems he has been even more successful in influencing journalists than the public. A picture of him working from home in a hoodie became a media frenzy after columnists from Vogue and GQ complimented his looks, which, in turn, spawned mockery on social media. It wasn’t long after that Sunak was being asked how he felt about being described as ‘Dishy Rishi’ in an interview with LadBible.

While Sunak may be the most popular Tory politician among the public, among party members he is second to the foreign secretary Liz Truss, his main rival for Tory leader if Johnson goes.

Burton-Cartledge suggests that this might be because he has not demonstrated the same zeal as Truss for pursuing a ‘war on woke’.

“He is of the same mould as Cameron: economically Thatcherite, but socially liberal,” said Burton-Cartledge. “That said, I can’t see him rowing back on the tough rhetoric about migrants in the Channel.”

Views expressed are personal