Adhim Zahawi is set to face an ethics inquiry into his tax affairs – as allegations against Conservative Party chairman Rishi Sunak mount pressure.
The prime minister ordered a possible far-reaching investigation into Zahawi on Monday, but resisted calls to sack the former chancellor over a multimillion-pound tax dispute that he settled with a fine.
Downing Street indicated Mr Sunak was not aware of the penalty when he defended Mr Zahavi in the Commons last week, but as he announced the inquiry, the prime minister said “clearly in this case There are questions that need to be answered”.
“That is why I have asked my independent consultant to get to the bottom of everything, thoroughly investigate the matter and establish all the facts and advise me on compliance with the Ministerial Code by Nadim Zahavi,” he told broadcasters in a visit told during a Northampton hospital.
“I am pleased that Nadeem Zahawi shares that view and has agreed to cooperate fully with that investigation.”
The inquiry by new ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus is expected to focus on Mr Zahavi’s ministerial declarations, but could also extend to his former tax regime and whether he has lied to the media.
The investigation could also include claims that Mr Zahavi falsely told authorities he exchanged WhatsApp messages with conservative former prime minister David Cameron about government loans for Greensoil Capital, not before he died. They were removed.
Mr Sunak has rejected calls to sack the minister, who insisted he “did the job properly” amid concerns about the settlement, estimated at around £5million.
Mr Zahavi is understood to have paid the fines – reported by The Guardian to be around 30% – when he was chancellor under Boris Johnson between July and September.
The Guardian’s report on the fines came out on Friday. The following day Mr Zahavi, MP for Stratford-upon-Avon, issued a statement insisting his “error” over shares in the YouGov polling company he co-founded was “reckless and not intentional”.
In a statement, Mr Zahavi said: “I welcome the Independent Advisor on Ministerial Standards to the Prime Minister on this matter. I look forward to explaining the facts of this issue to Sir Laurie Magnus and his team.
“I am confident that I have acted completely properly and look forward to answering any and all specific questions Sir Laurie may have in a formal setting.”
He said that “it would be inappropriate to discuss this issue any further” while continuing as Conservative chairman.
Both Labor and the Liberal Democrats have said Mr Zahavi should be sacked, with Labor deputy leader Angela Rayner demanding answers from the government in the Commons on Monday.
“Last week he told the House ‘all questions have been answered’ and he was told there were no outstanding issues, yet now independent consultants are investigating,” he said of Sunak.
“So will he publish the terms of reference? And why does it need an advisor to tell the prime minister that this conduct is unethical? If this is not a violation of the ministerial code, then surely the code itself is wrong and it is the job of the prime minister to fix it.
“If the prime minister comes clean about what he knew and when, and takes responsibility for the running of his own cabinet, will we need another investigation into another member of his top team?”
Mr Zahavi’s tax matters were one of two controversies Mr Sunak was forced to deal with as the week began, with BBC chairman Richard Sharp reportedly helping Mr Johnson secure loans of up to £800,000.
Mr Sunak distanced himself from the allegations, saying the chairman’s appointment was made by “one of my predecessors”.
But the row has meant fresh scrutiny of ethics within government, as the commissioner of public appointments, William Shawcross, said he would review the method of competition for the post to ensure it was in compliance with Whitehall rules. .
Mr Sharp insisted he was “not involved in making loans or giving guarantees” to the then prime minister.
He told BBC staff members that his role was to “seek an introduction” to Sam Blyth, who allegedly acted as guarantor for a loan to Mr Johnson, to a “relevant official in government”. .
Mr Johnson, who was responsible for Mr Sharp’s appointment, dismissed the row as “a load of absolute rubbish”, insisting Mr Sharp had no knowledge of his personal finances.
(tagsto be translated) Nadim Zahawi