- Zahawi was found not to have been open about the tax investigation
- Independent Consultant Finds Serious Code Violations
- Inquiry into Deputy Prime Minister ongoing
- Scandal damages Prime Minister Sunak’s restart attempt
LONDON, Jan 29 (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak sacked Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi on Sunday after an inquiry found he committed a serious offense by not speaking out about a tax inquiry, the latest scandal involving one of Sunak’s top ministers.
Sunak had initially supported Zahawi before ordering an independent adviser to look into questions about his tax affairs after it emerged that Zahawi had settled an investigation by Britain’s HMRC tax authority last year.
Zahawi has said the tax body ruled that he had been “careless” with his statements, but that he had not made a deliberate mistake to pay less tax, confirming that paid a fine to HMRC.
Sunak’s independent adviser, Laurie Magnus, said Zahawi did not say his tax affairs were under investigation when he was briefly appointed finance minister last year, and did not disclose details when Sunak appointed him to his current role.
“Following the completion of the investigation by the Independent Adviser… it is clear that there has been a serious violation of the Ministerial Code,” Sunak said in a letter to Zahawi.
“As a result, I have informed you of my decision to remove you from your position in Her Majesty’s Government.”
Zahawi’s response to Sunak did not mention either the HMRC or the investigation by an independent adviser. He expressed concern about the conduct of some in the media in recent weeks and said he would support Sunak’s agenda as a second-instance legislator.
“I’m sorry to my family for the cost this has caused them,” he said.
It is a setback for Sunak’s attempt to restore the government after a chaotic year that saw three different British prime ministers. an investigation on alleged harassment by Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab is ongoing and could cause more headaches.
A Conservative lawmaker said firing Zahawi was “clearly the right decision,” adding that Zahawi “should have resigned to avoid embarrassment.”
“Raab is quite different,” said the lawmaker, who declined to be named. “One man’s intimidation is another’s firm direction.” Raab has denied Bullying accusations.
The opposition Labor Party said Sunak had shown weakness in the way he handled the Zahawi and Raab cases.
“It is vital that we now get answers to what Rishi Sunak knew and when he knew it,” Labor party education spokeswoman Bridget Phillipson said on Sunday.
Zahawi’s sacking comes as Sunak’s government, grappling with decades-long high inflation and a wave of public sector strikes, fares poorly in opinion polls ahead of elections scheduled for 2024.
PUBLIC FALSE STATEMENT
Magnus said details of HMRC’s own investigation, relating to Zahawi’s 2000 co-founding of opinion polling firm YouGov, and how many actions his father had taken to support its launch, were outside the scope of his own investigation.
But it found that Zahawi had not declared the probe to be HMRC affairs, nor did he acknowledge that they were a serious matter. Zahawi had characterized the reports last July on his tax affairs as “clearly smears.”
Zahawi did not correct the record until last week, when he said he had reached an agreement with authorities.
“I find this delay in correcting a false public statement inconsistent with the openness requirement,” Magnus said in a letter to Sunak.
It added that Zahawi had shown “insufficient regard” for the requirement to “be honest, open and an exemplary leader through his own behaviour”.
Zahawi became finance minister after Sunak himself resigned from the post in July last year, helping end the scandal-plagued prime minister of Boris Johnson.
When she replaced Liz Truss as prime minister after her brief but tumultuous time in power, Sunak vowed that “this government will have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.”
But the restart is off to a rocky start. Along with the investigations into Zahawi and Raab, Sunak recently reappointed Interior Minister Suella Braverman. five days after Truss fired her for violating the ministerial code on safety rules, while in November Minister Gavin Williamson resign about the bullying allegations.
Asked if Conservative politicians consistently follow their own set of rules, Chief Minister Michael Gove said “there are always people who fall short”.
“Because someone slips up or sins, that shouldn’t automatically be taken as an opportunity to condemn an entire organization,” he told the BBC.
Reporting by Alistair Smout; Additional reporting by Elizabeth Piper Editing by Alison Williams and Toby Chopra
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