Mr. Zahawi came to national prominence in late 2020, when Mr. Johnson named him to lead the deployment of coronavirus vaccines during the depths of the pandemic. Britain had one of fastest rollouts of any major country, and Mr. Zahawi, with his engineering background and entrepreneurial skills, won much of the credit for it.
He was promoted to education minister, later becoming chancellor when Mr. Sunak resigned from that post in July 2022 to protest the ethical storms then engulfing Mr. Johnson. After Mr. Johnson quit, Mr. Zahawi declared himself a candidate for party leader, though he withdrew quickly after winning few votes from lawmakers.
During the dizzying upheavals of last summer — Mr. Johnson giving way to Ms. Truss, who was then forced out after 45 days in favor of Mr. Sunak — Mr. Zahawi often seemed to be on every side. He backed Ms. Truss; then Mr. Johnson, when he toyed with idea of running again in October; and, finally, Mr. Sunak.
But as Mr. Zahawi navigated the treacherous shoals of Tory politics, his finances were coming under constant scrutiny. His sale of YouGov, which made Mr. Zahawi wealthy, led to the dispute over unpaid taxes. British newspapers reported that he allocated founder’s shares to his father, which were held in an offshore family trust. Mr. Zahawi denied he was trying to avoid taxes, but his settlement included a sizable penalty.
In a letter to Mr. Sunak, Mr. Zahawi said he was proud of his work on the vaccine rollout and in helping to organize the state funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in September, which he did in a previous role as chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, one of the most prestigious posts in the cabinet. He made no direct reference to his tax problems, but bitterly criticized news coverage of the issue, which had once led him to complain that he was being “smeared.”
“I fail to see how one headline on the issue, ‘The Noose Tightens,’ reflects legitimate scrutiny of public officials,” Mr. Zahawi wrote. “I am sorry to my family for the toll this has taken on them.”