Sunak not knowing Zahawi’s tax problems is ‘inconceivable’ says Whitehall insider | Politics | News

Sunak not knowing Zahawi’s tax problems is ‘inconceivable’ says Whitehall insider | Politics | News

Both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss have been warned of problems related to Nadhim Zahawi’s unpaid taxes in detailed safety briefings the pair received over the summer, a senior Whitehall source has claimed. The briefings from the National Crime Agency (NCA) and intelligence chiefs came as the two were vying for the post of next prime minister in August. was told the detailed briefings for the then two would-be Prime Ministers included an overview of national security and broader organized crime issues, but also individual issues relating to individual ministers and MPs.

The source said: “It is inconceivable that Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss were unaware of the NCA and HMRC’s investigation into Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs and the details surrounding them.

“Questions about ministers and MPs were part of the briefings. That would have included Zahawi.”

At the time, Zahawi was briefly serving as Chancellor of the Exchequer when Boris Johnson saw his government.

But despite the briefings, both Truss and then Sunak, who had also run for the leadership, appointed Zahawi to their cabinets as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, who headed the cabinet office and party leader.

The source asked why Mr Sunak felt he had to sack Mr Zahawi on the basis of an independent inquiry last weekend “if he had already known about the problems”.

The briefings are understood to have been arranged by Home Secretary Priti Patel, who took over some of Mr Johnson’s responsibilities when the Tories switched to a new prime minister in September.

As Home Secretary, she also had oversight of the NCA and the intelligence services.

During this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), Mr Sunak insisted the problems arose before he was prime minister and he “acted quickly”.

Union leader Sir Keir Starmer asked: “When the Prime Minister briefly emerged from his hibernation over the weekend, he raised more questions than he answered. So, in the interests of integrity and accountability, can he set the record straight?

“Has its now former leader, MP for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), told government officials that the Treasury official is investigating him before or after the Prime Minister appointed him?”

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Mr Sunak replied: “I have engaged the independent consultant to fully investigate this matter. He detailed his findings over the weekend and after receiving those results I took action. I refer the right honorable and learned gentleman to the Independent Advisor Review Report.”

Later, when Sir Keir pressed the issue, the Prime Minister added: “I have followed due process. I have appointed an independent advisor as soon as new information becomes available to me. The independent adviser conducted its procedure.”

Mr Zahawi’s sacking has divided opinions among Tory MPs, with many believing he has been treated unfairly.

Some have claimed the former vaccine secretary and education secretary is now “out for revenge” with friend Boris Johnson on a comeback tour in the US this week.


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Mr Zahawi has been sacked following an inquiry after he was forced to pay HMRC £4.8million in unpaid taxes and penalties over shares in polling agency Yougov, which he founded.

The former minister, who was seen as one of the heavyweights in government, said HMRC had concluded it was a “negligent and not intentional” error.

However, HMRC chief executive Jim Harra this morning told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee that “there are no penalties for innocent errors in your tax affairs”.

A Downing Street source said: “We would not comment on the existence of NCA briefings, let alone the content.”

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