The finances of the new Foreign Minister Nadhim Zahawi were secretly investigated by the National Crime Agency (NCA), the independent can reveal.
A senior Whitehall figure has revealed that several people were formally approached by NCA officials about the matter in 2020.
The NCA said they were seeking information on the finances of billionaire Mr Zahawi, the source claimed. The investigation was dubbed “Operation Catalufa” and is believed to have involved the agency’s International Corruption Unit.
Catalufa, known as “Popeye Catalufa”, is a species of fish with ray fins, orange in color, found in deep waters of the Pacific.
Whitehall officials were told that the investigation was top secret and that Zahawi had not been briefed on it. The NCA investigation did not lead to any action against Mr. Zahawi. There is no suggestion of misconduct on his part.
Zahawi first learned of the matter was when he was informed by the independent on Wednesday.
His initial reaction was: “There was no such investigation by [the] NCA. I would like to know. Right?”
when he was told that the independent had established that the NCA had investigated his business affairs, he replied, “The NCA never approached me or said anything to me in my career.”
He added: “I have paid all taxes due and obeyed all financial laws and regulations.”
Asked if Johnson was aware of the NCA investigation when he appointed Zahawi as chancellor, a No. 10 spokesman said: “All the checks were done.”
Pressed to say whether Johnson had been briefed on the Zahawi investigation, the spokesman added: “The minister made the usual pre-appointment remarks and all necessary checks were completed.”
The Zahawi/NCA conundrum began several days ago when Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s former 10th aide, posted a sarcastic tweet about the previous cabinet reshuffle discussions with Johnson, in which he described personal and political shortcomings being aired. of the ministers.
Referring to the characterization of an unnamed cabinet minister, Cummings’ tweet read: “Under investigation by NCA (he doesn’t know).”
Mr. Zahawi’s identity as the minister mentioned by Mr. Cummings was disclosed to the independent by a separate source with detailed knowledge of the police investigation.
The individual also stated that Mr. Zahawi was unaware of the NCA investigation.
“They didn’t tell him because they were looking for information,” the individual said.
The controversy comes less than 24 hours after Zahawi replaced Rishi Sunak at Treasury.
If Johnson is ousted as prime minister, the loyalist Zahawi, a popular figure among Conservative MPs, is one of the main candidates to succeed him.
Zahawi, 55, was born in Iraq and came to the UK as a child when his Kurdish family fled Saddam Hussein’s regime.
He made his fortune with the online survey company YouGov and was CEO of Gulf Keystone Petroleum until 2018.
He became MP for Stratford-upon-Avon in 2010.
He was appointed children’s minister in 2018 and promoted to business minister the following year. After winning praise for his success as vaccines minister during the pandemic, he joined the cabinet as education secretary last September.
Zahawi got his start in politics by directing Jeffrey Archer’s failed bid in the 1990s to become mayor of London. Archer withdrew from the contest after it emerged that he had lied in a libel case. He was later jailed for the crime. Zahawi was not related to the matter.
Mr Zahawi was embroiled in the MPs charges scandal and “apologized unreservedly” in 2013 after it was reported that he claimed charges of £5,822 for electricity for his riding school stables and mobile home of the garden manager.
The NCA did not respond to a request for comment.