UK PM Sunak fires party chairman Zahawi, citing serious ethics breach

LONDON – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak fired Mr Nadhim Zahawi, the Conservative Party chairman from government on Sunday, after an independent investigation into his tax affairs found a serious breach of the ministerial code.

Mr Zahawi, who also served as minister without portfolio in Mr Sunak’s Cabinet, had acknowledged that he had been “careless” with his taxes and had settled a retroactive multi-million pound bill with the country’s tax collector.

That – and the revelation that he had also incurred a penalty for not settling the correct amount at the right time – led to mounting pressure from within his own party for him to go, or for Mr Sunak to fire him. 

The issue had allowed Labour Party leader Keir Starmer to accuse Mr Sunak of being “hopelessly weak” for failing to fire Mr Zahawi, and to draw a link between the Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs and Mr Sunak’s wife Ashkata Murty, who had enjoyed non-domicile tax status in the UK.

After initially standing by Mr Zahawi, Mr Sunak commissioned the ethics inquiry into his behaviour, saying that the party chairman’s Jan 14 statement about his tax payments had changed the calculus.

“Following the completion of the Independent Adviser’s investigation – the findings of which he has shared with us both – it is clear that there has been a serious breach of the Ministerial Code,” Mr Sunak said in a letter to Mr Zahawi on Sunday.

“As a result, I have informed you of my decision to remove you from your position in His Majesty’s Government.”

The independent adviser Laurie Magnus found that Mr Zahawi had been misleading when he said that reports last July over his tax affairs were “clearly smears”.

Mr Zahawi did not correct the record until last week, when he said he had reached a settlement with the authorities.

“I consider that this delay in correcting an untrue public statement is inconsistent with the requirement for openness,” Mr Magnus said in a letter to Mr Sunak.

He added that Mr Zahawi had shown “insufficient regard” for the requirement “to be honest, open and an exemplary leader through his own behaviour”.

“Mr Zahawi’s conduct as a Minister has fallen below the high standards that, as Prime Minister, you rightly expect from those who serve in your government,” he said. REUTERS, BLOOMBERG


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