LONDON (AP) – British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak fired the leader of his ruling Conservative Party on Sunday for a “serious breach” of the ministerial code.
The pressure on Nadhim Zahavi was mounting because of allegations that he settled a multi-million unpaid tax bill while he was the head of the state treasury.
In a letter to Zahawi, Sunak wrote that he was forced to act after promising at the start of his term that his government would “have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level”.
Zahawi did not immediately comment.
Zahawi, the founder of the opinion polling website YouGov, acknowledged the dispute with the tax authorities but claimed his mistake was “careless and unintentional”.
British media reported that the settlement amounted to nearly 5 million pounds ($6.2 million).
Zahawi headed the UK Treasury from July to September 2022 in the final months of Boris Johnson’s prime ministership. Sunak said the decision came at the end of an investigation into the party president’s financial affairs by the government’s independent standards adviser.
Laurie Magnus’ report found that Zahawi had shown “lack of respect” for the ministerial code and the required standards “to be an honest, open and exemplary leader through his conduct” in public life.
An investigation into his dealings by HMRC, Britain’s tax office, focused on the sale of around 27 million pounds ($33.4 million) of a stake in YouGov.
The investigation began in April 2021, but Zahawi did not comment on it when he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer more than a year later.
The Magnus report found that there should have been an understanding from the outset that the matter was serious. It is said that this was not reflected in Zahavi’s public statements, until on January 21 of this year he confirmed that a settlement had been reached.
In a statement on Sunday, Zahawi said it had been a privilege to serve in successive governments and told the prime minister he could be assured of his continued support.
He did not mention the ethics probe, but said he was concerned about the behavior of some sections of the media in recent weeks, adding that some reporting did not reflect “legitimate scrutiny of public officials.”
The 55-year-old previously worked as the minister for vaccines in the first year of the corona virus pandemic, after which he was the minister of education for nine months.