Britain’s Rishi Sunak involved in ‘Tory sleaze’ investigations

Britain’s Rishi Sunak involved in ‘Tory sleaze’ investigations

Commentary

LONDON (AP) — He was supposed to be the responsible adult, the shiny new prime minister washing dishes on Downing Street after the Liz Truss economic disaster and Boris Johnson’s party pandemic.

But try as he may, Rishi Sunak and his Conservative Party government keep going back in time, to face accusations of what the opposition calls “conservative sleaze”, shorthand for clubby cronyism here among right-wing politicians and donors.

After a weekend of shocking revelations, led by scoops from The Guardian, Sunak announced on Monday that an independent ethics adviser would investigate the tax affairs of Nadhim Zahawi, chairman of the Conservative Party and former Chancellor of the Exchequer, the British name for Minister of Finance and one of the four “Great Offices of the State”.

Hours later, on Monday, Britain’s public appointments commissioner announced that his office would investigate the appointment of Richard Sharp as BBC president, a post that required Johnson’s approval.

This inquiry 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 sought while serving as prime minister.

In addition to these important matters, Sunak himself was fined last week for failing to wear a seat belt while posting a video on social media in the back seat of a government vehicle.

The seat belt violation resonated with the public in part because this was Sunak’s second fixed penalty violation. Earlier, he was fined for attending one of the meetings held at 10 Downing Street in breach of the strict lockdown rules that were in place at the time. That party was to celebrate Johnson’s birthday.

It was revealed last week that Zahawi managed to negotiate his back tax payment with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs Agency, Britain’s Internal Revenue Service, to pay millions of pounds in outstanding tax liabilities, plus a hefty fine, while he was chancellor.

Clean government activists and leaders of the opposition Labor Party quickly called for Zahawi’s resignation, or for Sunak to fire him.

“This pathetic attempt to pass the buck is just not good enough,” said Angela Rayner, the deputy Labor leader, stressing that Zahawi was the finance minister, in charge of spending tax revenue, as he negotiated a deal with tax collectors. of taxes.

“You don’t have to have an ethics counselor tell you that’s unacceptable,” Rayner said.

According to The Guardian, Zahawi owed capital gains tax after selling shares in YouGov, the polling company he co-founded before being elected as a lawmaker.

Zahawi paid the back tax he owed, as well as a 30 percent penalty, and the total settlement came to $6 million, the newspaper reported.

The 56-year-old politician, who was born in Iraq and fled with his family to Britain as a child, described his late payment as a “careless and unintentional” mistake.

Also, Sharp, the BBC president, stressed that he was not directly involved in any loans to Johnson.

“I was not involved in making a loan, or arranging a guarantee, and I did not arrange any financing,” Sharp said in an internal email to the BBC on Monday (later published by the BBC).

According to the Sunday Times, Sharp helped settle a guarantee on a loan for Johnson in 2020. The guarantor, according to the Times, was Sam Blyth, a Canadian businessman and Johnson’s distant cousin. Sharp, a 56-year-old former Goldman Sachs banker and big Conservative donor, was appointed to chair the BBC in January 2021.

Sharp confirmed to the BBC that he had introduced Blyth to Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, the government’s highest-ranking official and one of the prime minister’s top advisers, “as Sam wanted to support Boris Johnson.” Blyth, Sharp and Johnson also dined together at the Prime Minister’s official country mansion, Checkers, but denied discussing Johnson’s finances.

John Nicolson, a Scottish National Party lawmaker, told the House of Commons that the issue was “a bit of a banana republic”, according to Sky News.

Nicholson complained that when Parliament vetted him for the top job at the BBC, Sharp neglected to tell the panel “his role in getting the man who appointed him to make him a big loan”.

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 matter “a bunch of nonsense, utter nonsense.”

He said: “This is just another example of the BBC disappearing on its own footing.”

For his part, the president of the BBC described the matter as “a distraction for the organization, which I regret.”

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