As a cost-of-living crisis causes agony for millions of people, British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Sunday removed a top ally whose questionable financial activities have focused fury at the government.
The affluent Conservative Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi was found to have committed a “severe infringement” of ministerial regulations, according to an investigation into his tax issues, which go back to the year 2000 when he founded the YouGov polling company.
Sunak notified his Iraqi-born ally in a letter that was made public, “I have advised you of my decision to dismiss you from your position in His Majesty’s Government.
When Sunak took over 10 Downing Street about 100 days ago, following the collapse of Liz Truss’s administration and the defeat of the scandal-plagued Boris Johnson, he installed Zahawi as the party chairman and cabinet minister without portfolio.
Sunak then promised to provide “integrity, professionalism, and responsibility at every level,” as his letter emphasized.
Instead, Sunak’s attempts to rebuild public confidence in the embattled Conservatives have been thwarted by the Zahawi case and claims of bullying made against Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab by civil servants.
According to Laurie Magnus, Sunak’s recently recruited independent ethics advisor, Zahawi effectively lied to each successive Conservative leader when he was under investigation by the UK tax office, according to the investigative report.
Months after beginning his tenure under Johnson as chancellor of the exchequer, in ultimate charge of the UK tax agency, Zahawi resolved the case last September with a fine for late payment reportedly worth £5 million ($6.2 million).
However, he did not disclose the fine in his declaration of ministerial interests until this month, when it surfaced in press stories. He initially used threats of libel lawsuits last year to try to intimidate journalists and a tax consultant.
According to the damning Magnus assessment, Zahawi had failed “to be honest, open, and an example leader by his own behavior.”
The enormous political stakes at risk at a time when millions of Britons are struggling to make ends meet were highlighted by Sunak’s choice to fire Zahawi rather than simply invite him to quit and save some face.
Having immigrated to Britain with his Kurdish family at age 11 and speaking no English, Zahawi handled the Covid vaccination deployment in Britain and was highly regarded in his party as an inspirational success story.
Full of sleaze
Sunak should have fired Zahawi right away, according to the opposition Labour party, rather than trying to gain time by asking Magnus to look into it.
According to senior Labour MP Bridget Phillipson, the controversy demonstrated how “weak” Sunak was as prime minister, according to Sky News.
The Conservative party, she claimed, “just reeks of slime.”
After learning that his Indian wife Akshata Murty had for years benefited from “non-domicile” status, which prevented her from paying UK taxes on her offshore income from her family’s Infosys business group, Sunak has been questioned about his family’s tax issues.
He also expressed regret for earning his second police fine last week after being caught on camera in the backseat of a moving automobile without a seatbelt.
Sunak was punished along with the then-prime minister for attending an unauthorized office party when a Covid lockdown was in effect while serving as chancellor himself under Johnson.
One of numerous scandals that led to Johnson’s downfall was “partygate.”
Sunak’s promises of integrity were in stark contrast to that track record, but his predecessor’s business with the government continues to follow him around.
A separate investigation is being conducted into claims that former banker Richard Sharp helped secure the then-PM a private credit line from a Canadian businessman for up to £800,000 ($990,000), soon before Johnson appointed Sharp chairman of the BBC.
As a backbench Conservative MP, Zahawi swore to keep standing up for Sunak and maintaining his innocence.
But he added that he was worried “about the conduct from members of the fourth estate (the media) in recent weeks” in a letter to the prime minister.
Michael Gove, a senior minister, backed Sunak’s handling of the case.
He told BBC television, “I think what reflects on him is the determination that he has to make sure that people are treated properly and that the administration focuses on service.