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Sleuthing former Clifford Chance lawyer leaves Nadhim Zahawi fighting for his political life

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Dan Neidle calls for former chancellor to apologise after he reportedly paid around £5 million to HMRC

Dan Neidle and Nadhim Zahawi (credit Wikimedia Commons)

A sleuthing former Clifford Chance lawyer has left Nadhim Zahawi fighting for his political life over revelations about his tax affairs.

Dan Neidle, ex-head of tax at the Magic Circle law firm, began investigating the tax affairs of Conservative party chairman Zahawi in July last year. At the time Zahawi, an Iraqi-born child refugee and former multi-millionaire businessman who co-founded market research firm YouGov in 2000, was serving as chancellor of the exchequer.

Neidle, who retired from the law firm’s partnership last year, recalls digging through company accounts and filings, going back as far as 22 years, to uncover a series of what he claimed to be “suspicious” arrangements, he writes in yesterday’s The Sunday Times.

He raised questions over why shares from YouGov were held in Balshore Investments, a Gibraltar-registered family trust. “For me, there was a potential explanation,” explains Neidle. “Zahawi didn’t want to be taxed on profits on the YouGov shares, so he put them in the company owned by his parents’ trust. But he still regarded them as his assets, and so cash came back to him through gifts and loans. There are half-a-dozen tax rules designed to stop this sort of thing. And, if my theory were correct, one of them would apply to tax on the dividends and capital gains. I reckoned about £3.7 million in tax should have been paid — but hadn’t.”

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Over the weekend Zahawi issued a statement in which he confirmed he had paid “several million pounds” to settle a dispute with the taxman. He said that HMRC deemed errors in his tax affairs as “careless and not deliberate”, and indicated that the agreement was made during his time as chancellor. Reports suggest the settlement was more than £3.7 million of tax — the same figure Neidle identified in July 2022 — plus a 30% penalty and interest.

“[I]t’s harder to imagine a worse conflict of interest,” Neidle writes in the article, adding: “And — most important of all — public confidence in the tax system is shredded if people have the perception that there’s one rule for ministers and another for the rest of us… Time to apologise.”

It has been reported this morning that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has asked his independent ethics adviser to look into the matter, as there were “questions that need answering”.

A Clifford Chance-lifer, Neidle worked as a tax lawyer in the firm’s London office for 23 years, becoming its UK head of tax in 2020. He left the firm last year to focus on his family and founded a blog, Tax Policy Associates, where he reports his discoveries. Since then his profile has risen: he now courts nearly 65,000 Twitter followers and has made several television and radio appearances. When asked this morning whether he was looking at the tax affairs of any other MPs, he tweeted, “The answer is yes…” Perhaps we can expect to see more revelations unfold as the Norfolk-based ex-City lawyer continues to probe the tax affairs of politicians.

On a lighter note, Neidle’s investigative exploits have inspired a number of memes and firmly cemented the tax guru’s status among the Legal Twitterati.

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38 Comments

Just Anonymous

This is only part of the story.

Let’s not forget that Zahawi – through his lawyers – aggressively threatened Neidle with defamation proceedings when he raised these issues.

Given what we now know Zahawi must have known (given the admitted fact of the tax settlement and the penalty payment), it is very difficult to understand how Zahawi could have seriously believed he had even the faintest speck of a genuine defamation claim.

The fact that Zahawi would use the legal system in this way says a lot about his character. And I don’t think I particularly want that sort of a character at the heart of government.

Pensions Lawyer

Speaking of conflicts – don’t City tax lawyers spend their careers advising high paying clients on how best to legally avoid paying tax? Seems a bit hypocritical doesn’t it ? I’m not a tax lawyer so not going to claim I know the details of their roles but that’s what I’ve always thought.

Tax NQ

You need to shut the f up. There is a reason why tax lawyers are the brightest in the City and why you clearly have no idea what a tax lawyer does. The one saving grace for you is that pensions lawyers are also smart – just not as smart as tax lawyers- but still way above the competency of any banking or corporate lawyers who are simply glorified overpaid transaction managing paper pushers !

Jeremy

Lol agree with the bit about banking and corporate lawyers. You don’t need to be a lawyer to be a half decent banking or corporate associate.

Anon

Anyone else read this in Donald Trump’s voice?

I am simply the greatest tax lawyer ! I like commercial, I think they’re okay – they think I’m great, but I think they’re okay. You can’t do that!!

Questioning the clueless man

Tax is the brightest? What about regulatory and restructuring?

Entertained

Regs and restructuring lawyers are also smart – but not as smart as tax lawyers I’m afraid. But at the end of the day not everyone can be number one, and that’s fine if you’re not an insecure delusional first year law undergrad like most of the people who comment on this site.

Sue Me

Everyone knows that litigation is the brains trust and operate as the de facto department of hard questions. The rest of the firm are great at populating templates.

Criminal defence lawyer

You might want to base your opinions on your fellow professionals on something more than vague pop-culture assumptions. Otherwise, I dread to imagine what you think of me.

Kirkland Rainmaker

Respect to all criminal lawyers – if being a criminal lawyer didn’t mean I’d end up earning less than a thick as s*** banking NQ I’d probably have considered it as a career route quite strongly. I just wanted the Lambo too much though. Also don’t agree with the way Tax NQ expressed their point but I must admit tax lawyers are pretty god dam smart in comparison to most other City lawyer’s

Alan

Shame your alleged intelligence doesn’t go as far as learning how to use apostrophes.

Earl

Lol – attention to detail – the only value a banking associate can add to any transaction. Go back to your pre agreed LMA document sunshine – whilst you still can before your job inevitably becomes automated by computers. I mean seruously – given the LMA what is the point of banking lawyers now….

Anon

In a word, no (not any more, anyway). Clients are far more concerned with actually paying tax that is owed (including the moral / reputational aspects of that, not just what they can justify as legally due) than they are with tax avoidance, and the law has got to a point where there is so-much anti-avoidance legislation now that (a) most avoidance schemes don’t work, and (b) the job is so much more about navigating a minefield of complex rules to work out what the position is in the first place, than it is structuring to improve it.

Of course there are still some arbitrary tax planning choices that the law allows for whatever reason (e.g. pay SDLT on the transfer of a property, but not on the transfer of shares / units of an SPV owning the property…) but I would describe the job as anything but “advising on how best to legally avoid paying tax.”

Should five percent appear too small

Absolutely the opposite of this. I spend my entire time advising on the effectiveness of tax mitigation arrangements, and all my clients want to pay as little tax as they can, they just have differing risk appetites. True the PLCs now take less risk and the celebrities are a bit wary after what happened to poor jimmy Carr, but really that is just a function of the risk appetite equation rather than a substantive issue. I love my work, as I stick it to the grabbing politicians daily as the try to punish the successful more and more to fund the scrounging Red Wall voters and greedy pensioners.

Archibald O'Pomposity

“Speaking of conflicts – don’t City tax lawyers spend their careers advising high paying clients on how best to legally avoid paying tax? Seems a bit hypocritical doesn’t it?”

Entirely ad hominem.

Anonymous

Good job Neidle doesn’t have a goatee and moustache…

Shah

i don’t get this? Is it a joke about him being bald?

Archibald O'Pomposity

“i don’t get this? Is it a joke about him being bald?”

They look like father and son – very similar except for the age difference and hair. Are you dimwitted?

Anon

Kudos to Dan for pushing through. I don’t want to draw inferences, but Dan left CC during the time he raised concerns about Zahawi’s tax affairs. I can only imagine the pressures he faced from all walks of life to drop his investigation and back off.

Ex-CC

Dan wasn’t under pressure, he just didn’t fancy being super involved the work any more and genuinely did want to spend more time with his family. I have no doubt that he wasn’t pushed or told to back down.

Archibald O'Pomposity

What the hell do you know? On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.

Dan Neidle

Hello. This is Dan Neidle. I don’t normally obsessively read through comment threads (really! no really!), but someone asked me about this (proof it’s me: https://taxpolicy.org.uk/assets/nonsense.png), and I wanted to make the position absolutely clear.

My decision to retire from CC was announced in November 2021 and I retired end April 2022. As I said at the time: I was leaving CC to spend more time with my family, and do a bit of tax policy on the side. I loved CC – the work and my colleagues. All my success, as tax partner and doing whatever it is I do now, is thanks to CC.

I started looking into Zahawi in July 2022 following a weird POIA response and Anna Isaac’s incredible Independent article (literally incredible: hard to believe, as well as amazing/incredible).

So, unless there is some seriously weird reverse causality shit going on, the two are not connected

I won’t be monitoring this thread, but I’m easy to contact via the website. Thanks to everyone for being so supportive – the overwhelming support I’ve received from the profession is what enabled me to do what I did.

Dan

Orwell

Not defending Zahawi, but Dan Neidle is an active Labour Party member – just Google his application to their National Executive Committee. Again, not defending Zahawi, but you should take with a pinch of salt everything he does because it is all partisan

Hello Zahawi PR

Did you even bother to read the content of his investigation? Whether or not his decision to start the investigation against a Tory MP was influenced by his political leanings is irrelevant where he was proven to be right and Zahawi has paid a substantial settlement!

Anon

You are defending him though, aren’t you. If you followed Dan’s efforts you’d also know Dan is currently investigating another MP who isn’t a tory. There was a story a couple years ago of him being the tories favourite lawyer lol. Even if he was targeting because he’s a labour activist, good. The CHANCELLOR making even a ‘careless’ mistake in relation to tax when he’s dealing daily with HMRC is a huge story.

Think again!

Dan Neidle makes arguments and presents proof of what he says – so his political alliances (whatever they might be) are neither here nor there.

Bernie

Pathetic. Either Zihawi is guilty of “carelessly avoiding” a few million quid in tax, or he isn’t. I smell more partisanship in your comment than in anything that Neidle has done.

Archibald O'Pomposity

What a stupid, irrelevant comment. Zahawi’s actions, if the reports are true, are indefensible and strike at the very heart of the integrity demanded of those in government,

Tracy's Dog

If Zahawi held his shares in a trust, but then removed them to sell – even though he says they were never his in the first place – who are the trustees responsible for the transaction, and should not the Gib authorities also be looking at this under their legislation.

Vc

Lool as a coprorate or banking lawyer, you still need to be able to negotiate docs and terms and understand the different nuances while working under crazy pressure and quick turnarounds. So let’s not downplay it as “easy”. Then again, this is legal cheek so best not to take stuff here serous.

Paul

Let me explain this for those without a background in these types of matter…

To start off, you have an asset or a liability. Either can lead to a tax liability or a tax credit. The sum of all parts equals the net position. However, if you place the asset or the liability under certain ‘umbrellas’, as we like to call them, the net position under each umbrella can be taken in isolation subject to the rules that fall underneath.

This is where the position gets complicated. Imagine there are ropes connecting each umbrella. The ropes are different colours. Depending on the colour of the ropes, the rules between the assets or liabilities falling under the connected umbrellas mean that the two net results, taken together, might interact differently.

Another factor, in this scenario, is the type of precipitation. Is it rain or is it snow? Something else like hail or sleet? Again, this impacts the position.

Ultimately, nobody wants to be rained on. Sometimes in this complex world of umbrellas you will do.

Pascal

Do you work for an airline mate? You’re totally winging it.

Jim

Thank you, Sir Humphrey. That was most unclear.

Paul’s Mother

What a stupid comment

Archibald O'Pomposity

WRONG:

Ultimately, nobody wants to be rained on. Sometimes in this complex world of umbrellas you will do.

Should be:

Ultimately, nobody wants to be rained on. Sometimes in this complex world of umbrellas you will BE. [emphasis mine]

V

Is tax cushty as a seat? Heard hours are good

For Victory

It is not too taxing.

Empedocles of Akragas

Reading the comments, I’m so glad I didn’t go into the law…and isn’t the profession about to be steamrollered by AI anyway?

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