Nadhim Zahawi attacks ‘illegitimate’ press coverage of his tax affairs

Mr Zahawi leaves the Conservative Party head office in Westminster - Victoria Jones/PA
Mr Zahawi leaves the Conservative Party head office in Westminster - Victoria Jones/PA

Nadhim Zahawi attacked the press in his letter to Rishi Sunak after he was sacked over his tax affairs on Sunday morning.

Mr Zahawi was dismissed as Conservative Party chairman by the Prime Minister in the wake of an investigation by Sir Laurie Magnus, the ethics adviser, who found he committed a “serious breach of the Ministerial Code”.

He came under fire after it emerged that he settled an estimated £4.8 million bill with HMRC during his time as chancellor last summer, a sum believed to include a penalty to the taxman.

Mr Zahawi criticised The Independent newspaper in his letter to Mr Sunak after the digital tabloid ran the headline “The noose tightens” earlier in the week amid calls for his resignation from fellow Conservative MPs.

After reflecting on his work as the vaccines minister and a former chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, he wrote: “I am concerned, however, about the conduct from some of the fourth estate in recent weeks.

“In a week when a Member of Parliament was physically assaulted, I fail to see how one headline on this issue ‘The Noose Tightens’ reflects legitimate scrutiny of public officials. I am sorry to my family for the toll this has taken on them.”

The Independent first broke the news that Mr Zahawi was being investigated by HMRC and the National Crime Agency during his bid to succeed Boris Johnson as Conservative leader last July.

At the time, Mr Zahawi referred to the coverage as “inaccurate, unfair” and said in a statement: “It’s very sad that such smears should be circulated and sadder still that they have been published.”

But this was given short shrift by Sir Laurie, who wrote in his own letter to Mr Sunak: “I consider that an individual subject to the HMRC process faced by Mr Zahawi should have understood that they were under investigation by HMRC and that this was a serious matter.”

Geordie Greig, the former editor of the Daily Mail, this month took over as the editor-in-chief at the newspaper, which has run a series of negative headlines about Conservative politicians – and in particular Mr Johnson – in the ensuing weeks.

Mr Zahawi’s letter to Mr Sunak contained no apology for the breach of the code or direct reference to the row around his taxes, which his allies insist are now up to date.

The Independent defended its coverage of the row in an editorial on Monday, and said the now-former Tory chairman’s criticisms of its coverage were “egregious”.

“Most egregiously, Mr Zahawi had a swipe at the press,” the paper’s leader column said.

“Yet were it not for the constant pressure of press attention, none of Mr Zahawi’s serious breaches of the ministerial code would ever have come to light…

“Let us not forget, either, that he was being investigated by HMRC, Mr Zahawi dismissed the report as “smears” and threatened to sue both the journalists and tax expert Dan Neidle, just for their audacity in telling the truth about him.”