In a letter to Zahawi published on Sunday (29 January), Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said it is “clear that there has been a serious breach of the Ministerial Code”.
It comes after reports emerged that Zahawi paid millions to HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) to settle a dispute with the taxman. The Prime Minister subsequently ordered an investigation into the Stratford-on-Avon MP’s tax affairs, although Zahawi maintained that he is “confident” he acted “properly throughout”.
He previously admitted to paying a settlement to HMRC - although this came several days after initial reports. Zahawi added that HMRC had concluded their “disagreement” had come about as a result of a “careless but not deliberate” mistake.
It is not the first time Zahawi has faced tax allegations. He is thought to be one of the richest politicians in the House of Commons, so his finances have always been of interest - but he initially faced particular scrutiny back in July 2022 when he launched his bid for Tory leadership after Boris Johnson resigned from office. At the time, it was revealed that his tax affairs were being investigated - something which has come full circle.
So, who exactly is Nadhim Zahawi, how long has he been in politics, what is his net worth, and what are the tax allegations? Here’s everything you need to know.
Who is Nadhim Zahawi?
Nadhim Zahawi, 55, is an Iraqi-born Kurdish-British politician who has been Member of Parliament for Stratford-on-Avon since 2010.
He moved to the UK at the age of 9 when he and his family fled persecution under Saddam Hussein’s regime. Subsequently, he found a new home in London where he learned to speak English, and attended Holland Park School, Ibstock Place School, and King’s College School, before going on to study Chemical Engineering at University College London.
In September 2021, Zahawi recalled his experience of leaving Iraq in an interview with the Stratford Herald. He said: “It was clear to my family Iraq would not be safe under [Hussein’s] leadership and that is when we decided we had to flee to the UK. It was a huge sacrifice for us to leave our home country, as it is for anyone, however, I cannot be sure I would be here today if we hadn’t.”
What has his political career been like?
Following his election as the MP for Stratford-on-Avon in 2010, Zahawi subsequently became a member of the Number 10 Policy Unit – which provides policy advice to the Prime Minister - in 2013. In 2018 he was appointed a junior minister at the Department for Education, before taking up the same role in the Business Department in 2019.
In November 2020, Boris Johnson made Zahawi the first ever vaccines minister, responsible for delivering the Covid-19 vaccination to the UK. The coronavirus vaccination rollout began on 8 December of that year, and almost 150 million vaccinations have since been administered to UK citizens.
In 2021, Zahawi became the Education Secretary, and then became Chancellor of the Exchequer in July 2022 when Rishi Sunak quit the role. Just two days after he was appointed to the role, Zahawi joined several Conservative MPs in imploring Johnson to resign from office, telling the Prime Minister to “do the right thing and go now.”
He was later appointed to Liz Truss’ Cabinet as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, before ultimately becoming Chairman of the Conservative Party and Minister Without Portfolio under Sunak. Now, Zahawi has been sacked from Cabinet.
How much is Nadhim Zahawi worth?
Zahawi is believed to be one of the richest politicians in the House of Commons, with estimates of his wealth ranging from £30 million to up to £100 million. According to The Mirror, he has a “property empire” totalling £100 million.
A significant part of Zahawi’s net worth reportedly comes from his co-founding of polling firm YouGov in 2000, which he sold on the stock exchange in 2005. The Guardian also revealed in 2019 that the Chancellor spent much of his parliamentary career working as chief strategy officer for Gulf Keystone Petroleum.
This role reportedly paid him £52,325 in backpay in October 2015, in addition to a monthly salary of £20,000 from October 2015 which rose to almost £30,000 a month in August 2017. He is said to also have received approximately £330,000 in bonus payments.
What controversies has he been involved with?
Like most politicians, Zahawi’s career has not been without controversy.
Just a few of the times the MP has made headlines include:
- In 2013, he was embroiled in an expenses scandal after it emerged he had billed taxpayers for the electricity supply to his stables
- In 2016, he voted against a Labour amendment that would require private landlords to make their homes “fit for human habitation”
- In 2020, Labour MP Tulip Siddiq accused him of misleadingly suggesting research showed parents “prefer to pay a modest amount, £1 or £2”, instead of receiving free school meals
Then of course, most recently - Zahawi has been involved in something of a tax scandal.
What are the tax allegations?
According to a report in The Sun, Zahawi had to cough up a seven-figure sum to the taxman after scrutiny of his family’s financial affairs. The paper said this was to “settle a dispute”, suggesting the payment had been a tax penalty.
The questions which were reportedly raised concerned whether or not he should have paid capital gains tax on his founding share in YouGov, with sources suggesting he avoided this by using an offshore company. Zahawi’s share was held and sold when it was worth around £20 million in 2018, by Gibraltar-based firm Balshore Investments. According to think-tank Tax Policy, Balshore’s sale of YouGov shares should have incurred capital gains tax of around £3.7 million.
Zahawi has insisted his taxes have always been “properly” and that any payments and settlements were “up to date” prior to his appointment as both Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and as Minister without Portfolio/Conservative Party Chairman. But Sunak still ordered an investigation into the MP’s handling of the situation.
Now, the investigation, carried out by ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus, has concluded that Zahawi “has shown insufficient regard for the general principles of the Ministerial Code” and that he has not fulfilled the requirements of being an “honest, open and an exemplary leader”. Sir Laurie also wrote: “Mr Zahawi’s conduct as a minister has fallen below the high standards that, as prime minister, you rightly expect from those who serve in your government”.
Zahawi published a letter to Sunak on his Twitter, addressing his departure from government. Here, he did not mention his tax settlement, and instead criticised the reporting of the scandal by the press, writing: “I am concerned about the conduct from some of the fourth estate in recent weeks.”
Prior to this, in July 2022, The Independent reported that HMRC was investigating Zahawi’s tax affairs. Even before this, in 2020, the National Crime Agency looked into his finances- although no further action was taken.