What does Zahawi mean when saying he was 'careless'?

Former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi. Credit: PA

One part of Nadhim Zahawi's statement about his multi-million pound YouGov tax settlement, which included a penalty, puzzles me.

He says HMRC concluded he was “careless” in his tax arrangements rather than being “deliberate”.

His statement implies this “carelessness” is about the division of founder shares in the polling company YouGov between him and his dad - who had no management role at YouGov - when the shares were placed in an offshore trust.

What I can’t understand is how anyone can “carelessly” register shares offshore. It’s not like losing your keys.

Registering shares offshore is a cumbersome chore.

And I am slightly struggling to understand how anyone can “carelessly” divide shares between themselves and anyone else, including a parent.

With millions of pounds at stake in that division, thought and deliberation are usually required.

Apart from anything else, carelessness in the distribution of millions of pounds is not normally a qualification for holding a responsible job, like being chancellor of the exchequer, education secretary, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster or Conservative Party chairman.

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In saying that HMRC has concluded he was “careless” rather than “deliberate”, Zahawi is using the word as a term of art, to say that HMRC has agreed he did not engage in criminal tax evasion.

That is obviously important.

He would be toast as a Tory chairman if he had.

It is possible Zahawi is trying to say he was “careless” in not taking the kind of expert advice at the time of the YouGov share allocation that would have advised him not to give so many shares to his dad or park the shares offshore.

But even this possible failure to take advice was a choice. There are still lots of unanswered questions that are pertinent for someone holding high public office.

All a bit odd.

PS: Here is HMRC’s definition of “careless” from its Compliance Handbook.

“The law defines ‘careless’ as a failure to take reasonable care. The Courts are agreed that reasonable care can best be defined as the behaviour which is that of a prudent and reasonable person in the position of the person in question... It is simply a question of examining what the person did or failed to do and asking whether a prudent and reasonable person would have done that or failed to do that in those circumstances”.

So that is the relevant term of art and Zahawi is saying that in dividing the YouGov shares in the way he did between himself and his dad, HMRC decided he did not conduct himself in the way that a “prudent and reasonable person would have done”.

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