After a weekend of bruising spearheaded by information from the Guardian, Sunak announced Monday that an independent ethics adviser would investigate the tax affairs of Conservative Party leader Nadhim Zahawi, former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Treasury Secretary and one of the four Great Offices of State. .
Hours later on Monday, Britain’s Commissioner for Public Appointments announced that his office would investigate the appointment of Richard Sharp as BBC chairman, a position that required Johnson’s approval.
This investigation comes after the Sunday Times reported that Sharp was instrumental in helping Johnson find someone to act as guarantor for a personal loan of up to $1 million that Johnson applied for while he was Prime Minister .
Alongside these serious matters, Sunak himself was fined by police last week for not wearing his seat belt while making a social media video post in the back seat of a government vehicle.
The offense of buckling a seat belt received some publicity in part because it was Sunak’s second felony offense. He was previously fined for attending one of the gatherings at 10 Downing Street, which broke the strict lockdown rules in place at the time. This party was to celebrate Johnson’s birthday.
It was revealed last week that Zahawi managed to negotiate his overdue tax payment with His Majesty’s Revenue & Customs – Britain’s Internal Revenue Service – to settle millions of dollars in outstanding tax liabilities plus a hefty fine while he was Chancellor.
Clean government activists and leaders of the opposition Labor Party were quick to call for Zahawi’s resignation – or Sunak’s sacking.
“This pathetic attempt at passing the buck just isn’t good enough,” said Angela Rayner, Labor deputy leader, stressing that Zahawi was Chancellor of the Exchequer – responsible for the use of tax revenues – while he reached a deal with tax collectors negotiated.
“You don’t need an ethics consultant to tell you that’s unacceptable,” Rayner said.
According to the Guardian, Zahawi owed taxes on capital gains after selling shares in YouGov, the polling firm he co-founded before his election to the legislature.
Zahawi paid the back taxes he owed and a 30 percent penalty, with the total settlement coming to $6 million, the newspaper reported.
The 56-year-old politician, who was born in Iraq and fled to Britain with his family when he was a boy, described his late payment as a “negligent and unintentional” error.
Likewise, Sharp, the chairman of the BBC, stressed that he was not directly involved in any loans to Johnson.
“I was not involved in arranging any loan or arranging any guarantee and I did not arrange any financing,” Sharp said in an internal email to the BBC on Monday (which the BBC later released).
According to the Sunday Times, Sharp helped broker a guarantee for a 2020 loan for Johnson. The guarantor was Sam Blyth, a Canadian businessman and Johnson’s distant cousin, according to the Times. Sharp, a 56-year-old former Goldman Sachs banker and major Tory donor, was appointed chairman of the BBC in January 2021.
Sharp confirmed to the BBC that he introduced Blyth to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, the government’s most senior official and a top adviser to the Prime Minister, “because Sam wanted to support Boris Johnson”. Blyth, Sharp and Johnson also ate together at the Prime Minister’s official country mansion, Checkers, but denied that Johnson’s finances were discussed.
John Nicolson, an MP for the Scottish National Party, told the House of Commons the matter was “all a bit banana republic,” according to Sky News.
Nicholson complained that when Sharp was reviewed by Parliament for the BBC’s top post, he had failed to tell the panel “his role in the man who appointed him receiving a huge credit”.
On Monday, Johnson defended Sharp as “a great and wise man.”
“But he knows absolutely nothing about my personal finances,” Johnson said. “I can tell you that with 100 percent certainty.”
Speaking to Sky News, Johnson called the affair “a load of utter nonsense – absolute nonsense.”
He said: “This is just another example of the BBC disappearing into its own foundations.”
For his part, the BBC chairman called the matter “a distraction for the organization which I regret”.