UK leader fires party chairman over tax bill allegations

LONDON — British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak fired the chairman of the governing Conservative Party on Sunday for a “serious breach” of ethics rules in failing to come clean about a tax dispute.

Sunak had faced days of pressure to sack Nadhim Zahawi amid allegations he settled a multimillion-dollar unpaid tax bill while he was in charge of the country’s Treasury.


The prime minister acted after a standards probe found Zahawi had breached the ministerial code of conduct. It said he had failed to disclose details of his dispute with tax authorities and the fact that he had paid a penalty.

In a letter to Zahawi, Sunak said he had been forced to act to keep his promise that his government “would have integrity, professionalism and accountability at every level.” Zahawi had acknowledged the tax dispute but argued his error was “careless and not deliberate.”

In his response to Sunak, Zahawi pledged to support the prime minister as a backbench lawmaker and made no reference to the ethics inquiry. He attacked the media — which first revealed his whopping tax bill, reported at almost 5 million pounds ($6.2 million) — and claimed some reporting did not reflect “legitimate scrutiny of public officials.”

Zahawi headed the U.K. Treasury from July to September 2022 in the final months of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s tenure, and was appointed Conservative Party chairman when Sunak took office in October. Sunak has vowed to restore order and integrity to government after three years of turmoil under predecessors Johnson – brought down by ethics scandals – and Liz Truss, who quit within weeks after her policies rocked the U.K. economy.

Last week he asked the government’s standards adviser, Laurie Magnus, to investigate Zahawi’s tax affairs and said he would wait for the results before acting. In a report released Sunday, Magnus found Zahawi had shown “insufficient regard” for the requirement “to be honest, open and an exemplary leader through his own behavior” in public life.

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