- Al-Zahawi found that he was not open about the tax investigation
- An independent consultant finds serious breaches of the law
- The investigation of the Deputy Prime Minister is ongoing
- Scandal hurts PM Sunak’s reappointment bid
LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sacked Conservative Party leader Nadeem Zahawi on Sunday after an inquiry found he had committed serious wrongdoing by not opening a tax inquiry, the latest scandal involving one of Sunak’s senior ministers.
Sunak initially sided with Zahawi before ordering an independent consultant to investigate questions about his tax affairs after it emerged that Zahawi had settled an investigation by the British Tax Authority last year.
Al-Zahawi said the tax authority ruled that he had been “careless” in his statements but that he had not committed a willful error to pay less taxes, asserting that he had paid a fine to HMRC.
Zahawi did not announce that his tax affairs were under investigation when he was briefly appointed finance minister last year, said Laurie Magnus, Sunak’s independent adviser, and failed to disclose details when Sunak appointed him to his current position.
“After completing the independent counsel’s investigation … it is clear that there was a serious breach of the ministerial law,” Al-Sinak said in a letter to Al-Zahawi.
“In consequence, I have informed you of my decision to remove you from your position in His Majesty’s Government.”
Al-Zahawi’s response to Sunak did not refer to the Human Resources Management Committee or the independent counsel’s investigation. Expressing concern about the behavior of some in the media in recent weeks, he said he would support Sunak’s agenda as an MP.
“I am sorry to my family for the loss they have suffered,” he said.
It is a setback for Sunak’s attempt to reset the government after a chaotic year that has seen three different British prime ministers. The investigation into alleged bullying by Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab is ongoing and could cause more headaches.
A Conservative lawmaker said dismissing Zahawi was “obviously the right decision”, adding that Zahawi “should have resigned to avoid embarrassment”.
“Rap is a bit different,” said the lawmaker, who asked not to be named. “The bullying of one man is an assertive attitude towards another.” Raab denied the bullying allegations.
The opposition Labor Party said Sinak had shown weakness in its handling of the Zahawi and Raab cases.
“It is essential that we now get answers to what Rishi Sunak knew and when he knew it,” Labor education spokeswoman Bridget Phillipson said on Sunday.
Zahawi’s dismissal comes as Sunak’s government, which is facing decades-high inflation and a wave of public sector strikes, is trailing badly in opinion polls ahead of the expected 2024 election.
Incorrect general statement
Magnus said that the details of the HMRC investigation—regarding Zahawi’s involvement in founding the YouGov polling firm in 2000, and the number of shares his father took to support its launch—were outside the scope of his own investigation.
But he found that Al-Zahawi had failed to make public the Human Resources Department’s investigation into the affairs, or to acknowledge that it was a serious matter. Al-Zahawi had described reports last July about his tax affairs as “clear distortion.”
Al-Zahawi did not correct the record until last week, when he said he had reached a settlement with the authorities.
“I consider this delay in correcting an incorrect public statement to be inconsistent with the requirements of openness,” Magnus said in a letter to Sunak.
He added that Zahawi showed “insufficient interest” in the requirement “to be honest, open and an exemplary leader through his behaviour”.
Zahawi became finance minister after Sunak resigned from his post in July last year, helping to end Boris Johnson’s scandal-stricken presidency.
When he replaced Liz Truss as prime minister after a brief but turbulent period in power, Sunak promised that “this government will be fair, professional and accountable at every level”.
But the reboot is off to a rocky start. Alongside the investigations into Zahawi and Raab, Sunak reappointed Home Secretary Soella Braverman just five days after Truss sacked her for breaching the Ministerial Code on Security Rules, while Minister Gavin Williamson resigned in November over allegations of bullying.
Asked if Conservative politicians were consistently following their own set of rules, senior minister Michael Gove said there were “always people who will fall short”.
“Because someone makes a gag or a sin, it shouldn’t automatically be taken as an opportunity to damn an entire organisation,” he told the BBC.
(Reporting: Alistair Smoot). Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper. Editing by Allison Williams and Toby Chopra
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