The identity of the Whitehall “international tax detective” who is credited with making Nadhim Zahawi pay £5m, including a £1m fine, to HM Revenue and Customs may be revealed by the independent.
Tom Gardiner, who received the OBE in 2018 for dedicating his life to fighting tax crimes, led a two-year investigation into Zahawi.
The investigation, which began in 2020, is believed to have been ongoing when, as finance minister, Mr Zahawi was head of HMRC.
Mr Gardiner, deputy head of HMRC, is the “intelligence leader” of its “offshore directorate”.
He has worked for HMRC since 1985 and is considered one of the world’s leading experts on tax crime and money laundering around the world.
His OBE citation said he had been honored for “services to income protection.”
Experts say his forensic financial detective skills have saved British taxpayers “tens of millions of pounds” over many years.
Gardiner’s boss, HMRC chief executive Jim Harra, is expected to be questioned about how the organization handles inquiries into ministers’ tax affairs when he appears before the Commons Public Accounts Committee on Thursday.
The issue is even more sensitive in the case of Zahawi, who was under investigation when he was chancellor, whose responsibilities include oversight of HMRC.
In a statement issued on Saturday, he said his appointment as Conservative chairman in October had been approved by the Cabinet Office.
However, Labor MPs pointed out that their statement did not say that the Cabinet Office had approved his appointment as Chancellor of the Exchequer in July last year, when the independent he was the first to report the dispute over his tax affairs.
Zahawi, who allegedly paid almost £5m to HMRC, including a £1m fine, said he made a “careless, unintentional” error in his tax affairs. The dispute includes claims that he tried to evade taxes by holding millions of pounds in an offshore trust and claiming that part of it belonged to his father.
A former colleague of Gardiner’s said he is “highly respected, modest and determined”, adding gleefully: “He’s a cross between Martin Lewis (the financial guru) and Sherlock Holmes.”
In 2018, Gardiner signed a new agreement on behalf of the British government with Guernsey in the Channel Islands to curb money laundering.
He has spearheaded a global UK campaign to cure international tax fraud.
He played a prominent role at a 2018 British government-hosted Tax Compliance and Transparency conference in Singapore to discuss ways to combat tax crime with the US, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands.
The presenter wrote at the time: “HMRC’s Tom Gardiner gave an insightful presentation on the work he is leading to tackle tax crime enablers and facilitators.”
Gardiner was praised for his work in tackling “bad actors who are doing the wrong thing.”
The aim of the conference was “to combat international and transnational tax crimes and money laundering”.
It included “enhancing existing investigation and intelligence programs…identifying significant targets for new investigations…enhancing tactical intelligence.”
This was vital to gaining a “deeper understanding of the methods, weaknesses, and risks of offshore tax crime and cybercrime, which present risks to all tax jurisdictions.”