Sunak not knowing Zahawi tax problems is ‘inconceivable’ says insider
Nadhim Zahawi sacked by PM Rishi Sunak
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Both Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss were warned about problems surround Nadhim Zahawi’s unpaid taxes in detailed security briefings the two received over the summer, a senior Whitehall source has claimed. The briefings from the National Crime Agency (NCA) and intelligence chiefs came when the two were vying to be the next Prime Minister in August.
Express.co.uk has been told that the detailed briefings for the then two would-be Prime Ministers involved a run down of national security and major organised crime problems but also individual issues related to individual ministers and MPs.
The source said: “It is inconceivable that the Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss would not have been aware of the NCA and HMRC investigations in Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs and the details around them.
“Issues around 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 as Boris Johnson saw out his government.
But despite the briefings both Truss and then Sunak appointed Zahawi, who had also made a leadership bid, to their cabinets as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster running the Cabinet Office and the Party Chairman.
The source questioned why Mr Sunak felt he needed to sack Mr Zahawi last weekend on the basis of an independent investigation “when he would have known the issues already”.
It is understood that the briefings were arranged by Home Secretary Priti Patel who had taken on some of Mr Johnson’s responsibilities as the Tories transitioned to a new Prime Minister in September.
As Home Secretary she also had oversight of the NCA and intelligence services.
During Prime Minister questions (PMQs) this week Mr Sunak insisted that the problems had happened before he was Prime Minister and he had “acted swiftly.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer asked: “When the Prime Minister briefly emerged from his hibernation at the weekend, he raised more questions than he answered, so in the interests of integrity and accountability, can he set the record straight?
“Did his now former chair, the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi), tell Government officials that he was under investigation by the taxman before or after the Prime Minister appointed him?”
Mr Sunak responded: “I appointed the independent adviser to investigate this matter fully. He set out his findings in detail over the weekend and, on receipt of those findings, I took action. I refer the right honourable and learned gentleman to the independent adviser’s report.”
Later, as Sir Keir pressed the issue, the Prime Minister added: “I followed due process. I appointed an independent adviser as soon as I was made aware of new information. The independent adviser has conducted his process.”
The sacking of Mr Zahawi has divided opinion among Tory MPs with many believing that he was unfairly treated.
Some have claimed the former vaccines minister and Education Secretary is now “bent on revenge” with his friend Boris Johnson also on a comeback tour in the US this week.
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Mr Zahawi was sacked following an investigation after he was forced to pay HMRC £4.8 million of unpaid tax and penalties related to shares in the polling company Yougov which he founded.
The former minister, who was seen as one of the heavyweights in the government, said HMRC concluded there had been a “careless and not deliberate” error.
However, HMRC chief executive Jim Harra told MPs on the Public Accounts Committee this morning that “there are no penalties for innocent errors in your tax affairs”.
A Downing Street source said: “We wouldn’t comment on the existence of NCA briefings let alone the contents.”
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