How we exposed Nadhim Zahawi’s tax affairs – and why it matters

Editorial: We defied the then chancellor’s bid to gag the press and put the public interest first. Now our reporting has been vindicated as the PM announces an investigation and admits: ‘There are questions that need answering’

Monday 23 January 2023 15:48 GMT
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<p>The Independent broke the story about the investigation into Zahawi’s tax affairs in July last year when he was still chancellor of the Exchequer</p>

The Independent broke the story about the investigation into Zahawi’s tax affairs in July last year when he was still chancellor of the Exchequer

If, as seems increasingly possible, Nadhim Zahawi is forced to resign, it will be another vindication of the groundbreaking and courageous journalism of The Independent.

Last July, we revealed the story that the finances of the then chancellor – now Tory party chair – were under investigation. As each day goes by, our exclusive report has been more than substantiated. Mr Zahawi’s “statement of clarification” over the weekend remains inadequate and may not be sufficient to save his career.

As we pursued the story, Mr Zahawi tried to bully us into not reporting the matter by issuing repeated legal threats, a tactic he has since deployed against others. Had we capitulated – and had we not put the public interest first – this episode would have remained a secret tightly held by Mr Zahawi and a small circle around him.

The public, however, has a right to know whether a former chancellor of the Exchequer is negotiating with his own tax authorities about his tax liability.

The BBC reports today that the £5m, including a £1m penalty, that the “careless” Mr Zahawi was forced to pay HMRC in unpaid tax was handed over “in summer between July and September”. That was precisely when we first reported the matter – and when Mr Zahawi was using every trick in the book of political dark arts to silence us.

Today, as he announced an investigation by his independent ethics adviser, Rishi Sunak said: “Clearly in this case there are questions that need answering.” The prime minister’s comment is entirely correct, albeit six months late. The rest of the media, too, has only just caught up with The Independent.

It is only fair to praise independent tax expert Dan Neidle for his diligent work in unraveling fuller details of Mr Zahawi’s tangled tax affairs after our scoop. But Mr Neidle has been generous enough to acknowledge that his investigation was a direct result of The Independent’s “extraordinary report” in July.

He wrote for The Sunday Times: “I never set out to investigate Zahawi. But then I read an extraordinary report in The Independent that he had been the subject of an investigation.”

Mr Neidle praised The Independent again in a tweet over the weekend after we published the exchanges between Mr Zahawi and our political reporter Simon Walters, who has been breaking scandals in Westminster for more than 30 years and has won the British Press Awards political journalist of the year award four times. “Full credit to The Independent for publishing, in full, the legal threats they received from Zahawi when running their original story in July,” Mr Neidle wrote.

The Independent takes no particular pleasure in watching the fall of Mr Zahawi. It is simply a case of the public’s right to know – and of a politician believing that he can evade scrutiny. This scandal proves what everyone in politics and journalism has always known: if you want to know what is really going on, read The Independent.

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