Labour has called on the UK’s most senior civil servant to publish documents to show whether the new Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi broke the Ministerial Code by failing to declare details of his family’s £100million property empire.
A Mirror investigation revealed in July that a company owned by Mr Zahawi’s wife bought the £3.5million “Chunnel Estate” near the Eurotunnel railway station in Ashford, Kent, in December.
This was days before the Government secured a Brexit trade deal and after then Business Minister Zahawi had played a leading role in preparing companies for the changes.
Mr Zahawi has not responded to Mirror questions about the deal, including whether he had discussions with the top civil servant at the Department for Business, as apparently required under the Ministerial Code.
Sir Alastair Graham, the former Chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said: “This is a potential conflict of interest and should have been fully declared.”
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Anneliese Dodds, Labour Party chair, has written to the Cabinet Secretary Simon Case demanding to know if Mr Zahawi discussed the purchase of the Chunnel Estate with his permanent secretary.
She told the Mirror: “Nadhim Zahawi still has serious questions to answer about why his wife’s property firm was buying up warehouses in Dover while he was negotiating the final stages of the Brexit deal.
“The rules are clear: Mr Zahawi should have declared any conflict of interest to the civil servants at his department. If that didn’t happen, then it appears he has broken the Ministerial Code.
“We need to get to the bottom of what happened here. There can’t be one rule for Conservative ministers and another for everyone else.”
Under the terms of the Ministerial Code, ministers “must scrupulously avoid any danger of an actual or perceived conflict of interest between their Ministerial position and their private financial interests”.
They are required to “provide their Permanent Secretary with a full list in writing of all interests which might be thought to give rise to a conflict”, including “interests of the Minister’s spouse or partner”.
Mr Zahawi failed to respond to Mirror questions about his wife’s companies.
He transferred his 50% stake in one of them, Zahawi and Zahawi Limited, when he became a minister in 2018.
His published declaration of ministers’ interests states: “Mr Zahawi’s wife is Director of several limited companies, including Zahawi & Zahawi Ltd, which own commercial and retail property.”
But it does not name two other companies she is a director of, using her maiden name Lana Jamil Saib.
The ministerial code, a set of rules and principles that outlines the standards of conduct for government ministers, states that: “Where appropriate, the Minister will meet the Permanent Secretary and the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests to agree action on the handling of interests.
“Ministers must record in writing what action has been taken, and provide the Permanent Secretary and the independent adviser on Ministers’ interests with a copy of that record.”
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In her letter to Mr Case, Ms Dodds wrote: “I would be very grateful if you could clarify what discussions took place between Mr Zahawi and his Permanent Secretary to determine whether the Ministerial Code has been broken in this instance.
“If such a meeting did take place, then in the public interest can you share the minutes of it? If it did not take place, can you explain why not?”
She also asked “ if Mr Zahawi did indeed provide his Permanent Secretary with a fuller list of his interests – including those additional companies of which his wife is a director”.
The Mirror found that the Zahawis’ property portfolio included £50m in commercial property bought since he became a minister in 2018.
Lord Geidt, the Independent Advisor on Ministers’ Interests has told Ms Dodds last month that he has reviewed Mr Zahawi’s declaration of interests and found “I was content with the Minister’s declaration”.
An independent inquiry found evidence last November that Home Secretary Priti Patel had broken the ministerial code when she bullied staff but Boris Johnson over-ruled the report and decided that no further action would be taken.