Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Question 1-19)




  1. Welcome to the Committee. We understand Mr O'Sullivan is accompanying you and of course he can advise you or talk to you in any way he wishes, but of course he will not address the Committee unless the Committee asks. Thank you for coming, Geoffrey. The first question I have to put to you is that in your letter of 23 March you said to the Commissioner that you never sought nor received any payment for your position as chairman of Hollis. Do you accept that you did seek payment for your work with Lock which was a subsidiary of Hollis?

  (Mr Robinson) It was not in my capacity as chairman of Hollis. That had nothing to do with it. Here we are, dealing with a subsidiary of Hollis in a managerial way years after. Absolutely not. It was nothing to do with my chairmanship of Hollis when I was doing that work.

  2. Did not your own work as executive chairman form part of the support provided by TransTec for Lock?
  (Mr Robinson) The executive chairman of Lock at the time—Lock had nothing to do with it. I would like to make a small statement, if I might. One thing seems absolutely clear to me. At no point ever did I seek payment for my position as deputy chairman of Hollis. That is one clear thing I never did. Where is the evidence I did that?

  3. The Annex shows that you did produce an invoice to Hollis of £200,000 and said, "Please make cheque payable to Transfer Technology Limited."
  (Mr Robinson) Yes, for management services which are well documented in the Commissioner's report. None of it, by the wildest stretch of imagination or credulity, is related to my being non-executive chairman of Hollis. That was a nominal position. It was a company wholly owned by Maxwell with no obligations to anybody. I stayed there as a name and that was all. The work I did was as (a) obviously representing TransTec and (b) for Lock, a subsidiary of that company, nothing to do with being executive chairman of it.

  4. By raising that invoice as you did, you did not tell us in 1998 about the correspondence in which the fee for management services for Lock was negotiated.
  (Mr Robinson) I totally forgot the management contract that we had between TransTec and Lock. The issue was raised: was I paid as non-executive chairman of Hollis. There is a little box—we will come to it I am sure—saying, "Non-executive chairman's remuneration", which could not have been more erroneously described as 200,000. I assured Sir Gordon then as I do now that there was no payment to me in that year. The payment in their own books is charged to be in October 1990. We all know no payment was made in October 1990.

  5. But you did press Michael Stoney for payment of the invoice. Why did you abandon your attempts to get that money?
  (Mr Robinson) You would not want to hear a few words from me first?

  6. Please.
  (Mr Robinson) As it comes.

  Mr Campbell-Savours: Could we have his opening statement, please?


  7. Have you an opening statement?
  (Mr Robinson) Just a few words. I could take your question first.

  8. By all means.
  (Mr Robinson) Which was?

  9. You pressed Michael Stoney on a number of occasions for payment of that money, but you seemed to have abandoned that attempt to get that money and I am not sure why.
  (Mr Robinson) We have to define which money first of all.

  10. The £200,000.
  (Mr Robinson) Which was for a management contract, clearly negotiated—no question about it—between TransTec and myself and Lock, where I also was represented as being the person in charge of that. Of course, we eventually got to a figure. If I may say so, the Commissioner is too kind to me when she says I got it down. At one point they were talking about £350,000, not 200,000. They were always talking about a profit element which never entered into the consideration. Why did we not press for it? I know that the Commissioner regards this as an unsatisfactory answer, but I do not see how she can say that. The situation was that, by the time we let it drop finally, I had been paid for my work at Central & Sheerwood, not handsomely; it was three and a half years' work, but it was a reasonable payment and everybody seemed happy with it all round. The other payment was clearly contentious with Mr Maxwell. Do not forget, it was subject to his ultimate approval, so you could say the contract was not a contract if you wanted to. It was subject to an individual but that is not the issue. We always thought he would pay but in the end he decided not to. That is the point as is described by Kevin Maxwell. Why did we give in? I was expecting at one point—it is in my diary—that we were going to get paid in November, not December. I made a note that Michael Stoney was assuring me of payment but as time went on and on it was clear that payment was not going to be made. I remember talking to Dick Rimington about this. I said, "We are not going to get paid for that. It does not matter too much because we are, after all, going to get all the benefit from what we have done in the company when it comes into the main group", and by then it was pretty sure, though not absolutely, that it would come in. Had it not come in, I think we would have reverted to chasing for payment. In the end, it did come in. We would get all the benefits from the work we had done there and I had been paid for my separate, personal work with Central & Sheerwood. I cannot see what the argument or big difficulty is about saying, "We are not going to get that but we have the company; we have it improved and it is an acceptable price, even with our improvements that we made to it." Why risk a whole deal just for that? I cannot for the life of me see a problem there.

  11. Can we go on to the opening words you were suggesting?
  (Mr Robinson) With your permission, I would like to say that this was done in a great rush and I take my share of the blame for that because I asked Elizabeth Filkin to try and get it through before the election. I do not think the rush has been worth it, not just because of the conclusions the Commissioner has come to but also because I do not think any of us have had time properly to consider what she has said. Nor do I think she has had time to consider properly what she has said. I do not know but I would beg of the Committee to read our paper and give it due consideration and study it, because it is not an easy argument that is made on either side, it seems to me. First and foremost, I must reiterate that the allegations against me are totally untrue. I, nor any company I owned or allegedly worked in complicitly with, or anyone else associated with me, did not receive a cheque for the £200,000 in question. I cannot be more categoric or affirmative or definite than that. I will swear at the Bar of the House of Commons, anything any of you want. If anybody would know if I had had that money, I would, particularly in the light of the manner in which Ms Filkin thinks that I received it. I did not receive that money. There are many alternative explanations put to me where I could have got out of it. I did not have it. The Committee will have noticed I did receive a payment for Central & Sheerwood work, quite separate from Lock and Hollis, for 150,000. This was correctly disclosed in every respect, tax paid, declared to the House of Commons, but the Commissioner makes no reference to this at all in her memorandum. I find that strange. Two separate questions arise. Is it likely Mr Maxwell would have made this payment having just a few days earlier been party to an illicit transaction of 200,000? I hate to say this but what I am being accused of here is criminal behaviour. You can dress it up as you like but that is what it is. That is why I take it so seriously and personally and why I cannot let it rest, for obvious reasons. Having made that payment supposedly illicitly, on the side, with a cheque nobody is to know about, is he going to pay me £150,000 quite correctly for all the work I have done for others of his companies nine days later? If we are dealing with probability, I do not think that is a sufficient level of proof. It does not seem at all likely to me. Why would the 200,000 be treated any differently from the 150,000? There is not an element of direct evidence to suggest that other than that I would have treated it in the same way. The Commissioner adduces by way of proof—but I do not think it is—that I had to reduce a Roll Centre debt by 200,000 by 31 December 1990 in order to allow the merger to go ahead. By doing an illegal deal with Maxwell, I could save the tax on that—this is the Commissioner's supposition, not mine—and make the payment in full at the specified time on 31 December. Neither point is convincing. The 200,000 could quite properly have been paid from the £1 million of cash I received from the transaction. There is a very well established system whereby if you commit in advance to paying off something that is a prerequisite for a merger to go through, provided that money is deducted at source and put into escrow at the time of the completion of the deal, it is perfectly acceptable. I am not clear here because it seems for some reason I failed to convince the Commissioner on this. I do have a legal statement confirming this position or the Committee could separately take its own legal advice. Either is acceptable to me. The fact is that there was no pressure on me to do this. Even Roger Davis says he may have mentioned it to me or Brenda. He cannot remember. It was never a problem. It was easily solvable as a problem at the end of the transaction by deducting 200,000 from the cash I had received or, if all that was committed somewhere else, increasing the cash element. There is no question about that. It is a fact. The ironic point is because of the debts that the Roll Centre had rolled up, that payment to offset the Roll Centre debts would have been tax free anyway, as was the whole cash element that I received. There were such debts in the Roll Centre that the payment of a million in cash, which was all done with the pukka City people in charge, was tax free. The tax free element is not an issue; the availability of the funds is not an issue either. Finally, I cannot see why Robert Maxwell would want to enter into a transaction like that. What would there be in it for him? I do not want to speak ill of the dead. Many people have spoken so ill of him, but that is their affair. One thing I always think is that in any commercial situation he would seek to see what advantage there was for him in it. On this point the Commissioner comes up with the idea that the reason why Maxwell would agree to an illicit, illegal deal is that, on that basis, the 200,000 being paid in for a management contract would not be counted as part of the multiple of earnings on which the value of TransTec would be calculated. The multiple was ten; the earnings were 600,000; the value was six million, of which I took one million in cash and could easily have taken 1.2 million in cash. Two hundred thousand extra, not subject to tax at all, would have been used to pay off instantaneously this debt to the Roll Centre. What was in it for Maxwell? Nothing. There was never any question at all that the 200,000—it was not treated as normal trading. All Committee Members I think will understand that. When you apply a multiple to the valuation of a company, you have to apply it to the normal, sustainable earnings of the company. A one-off management contract for a company that is coming in anyway would never be regarded as a normal part of trading and sustainable earnings of the company being valued. I can assure the Committee it was never an issue. None of the calculations, none of the financial projections, nothing ever included that 200,000. The idea of an illicit payment, which I find it very hard to conceive in my wildest dreams that anybody could have come to this conclusion, is totally unnecessary from Maxwell's point of view, because the 200,000 was never in the multiple. That can be demonstrated from reference after reference to all the financial documents surrounding the merger. It is perfectly credible, as Kevin Maxwell has said in his affidavit, from which he has not resiled at all, that Mr Maxwell would decide against making the payment to TransTec or myself. He is quite clear that that is what happened. In a sense, I can understand because the company had not been a great success, neither Lock nor Hollis. The next thing I say with some reluctance but it is also entirely possible that he would have used that money for his own company's purposes. It is no secret at that time already—I can go into further detail if the Committee wishes on this point—that the Maxwell Group was very strapped for cash and needed every penny it could get its hands on and was moving money around and would try, no doubt as legitimately as it could against a legitimate invoice, to repay some part of their empire. I then come to the point that there was no need for hurt in this situation but what hurts me most is that from day one I gave Sir Gordon, then Hugh Aldous and then the Commissioner my fullest cooperation. I do not think anyone wants to deny that. If you are a guilty man, I do not think you would do that. What I would do I just do not know. I am so convinced of my total innocence in this situation. I produced documents that went against me. For example, it was my doing that we found the TransTec document that showed that 200,000 had come into the company. We can deal with that in questions. I asked Roger Davis to spend two days finding it. When he brought it to me, he said, "Gosh, I wish I had not found this." I said, "We have found it; we have to produce it." Somebody who is guilty, somebody who is in a cover up, who is lying through his teeth, who is conducting himself in the way that I am sorry to say that the Commissioner says I am it seems to me is unlikely to go out of his way to find things and produce them if they are against his case. I just cannot believe that and I do not believe that anybody who is cooperating as fully as I am would have done that if they had had the slightest doubt about whether the whole thing could have been a black nightmare and I could have gone mad. Perhaps I had gone to see Maxwell on my own, my closest, trusted colleagues in the House not knowing. Brenda Price, who knows all about all my accounts; Sami Ahmed, with whom I worked for ten years; Roger himself, who was responsible for the accounts. I had gone there and done this strange deal. The whole thing is absurd from my point of view. That is a view you will all have to take a view on. Perhaps I had done that, so I consulted with Sami and others close to me—Brenda, who knows my own accounts and any loan commitments to the Roll Centre—and you have four utterly firm affidavits, with one exception,[1] saying that the money was not paid, that I did not receive the money from four different angles. I cannot put it any more strongly than that. It does mean what you are being asked to believe is that Geoffrey Robinson went out secretly, illegally, betrayed all those closest to him, betrayed his position as a Member of Parliament, struck a secret deal with Mr Maxwell, took the money into one, two or three unknown accounts which have not been found, put it into TransTec and, without telling anybody, Roger finds it and says, "This is wonderful", by 7 December. All I can say to my colleagues in this House is that that is utterly, utterly untrue. Not one word of that would stand up in the Commissioner's interpretation of what happened. I went to a lot of costs, as you know, and a lot of lengths to find various documents. One that has still not been subject to the proper search that it should have been is the only item of direct evidence that can be found here that will either prove the Commissioner's case or my case. I do not believe the TransTec cash book can be considered that, though I would love to find it. Roger Davis's entry into the nominal ledger, the exactitude of which the Commissioner has already cast doubt upon, even the cheque stub—what is on the cheque stub is not what is on the cheque necessarily. I do not mean to imply dishonesty all round, but that really is not very good. If we could get the paying in slip from the bank, filled in by the bank, that would be good, but we know already all their documents have been destroyed. The one item in all of this that has not been found and the one item of direct proof, one way or the other, is the cheque itself. Michael Stoney's view is that all cheques were returned to PAGB and he thinks it is still there. The Commissioner says that, yes, it certainly went back to PAGB but "cannot be found". The truth is we have not actually really looked to find that cheque yet. When I was at the Treasury I said I would undertake it, and I regret not having done it then but the urgency of the case, the terrific seriousness of the case against me, was not clear then. It is my view now that I am charged with criminal offences. I imagine from this Committee that the thing will go on to a criminal court, the charges are criminal that are laid before me here. It is quite clear that whilst at that stage, Chairman, I did not commission the search for the cheque, I have today spoken with Arthur Andersen and, I think, achieved their agreement that they will allow me full access to all the boxes. I will withdraw them five at a time and I will search every single box until we find that cheque. If we do not find that cheque, which I suppose is possible if it were a Maxwell cover-up, something wrong that was done on the Maxwell side, they may have shredded it. As we all know a huge amount of shredding went on at the time of the Maxwell thing. Nobody can say I shredded it because the cheque never came back to me by definition, it went back to PAGB. It is quite clear that I could not have had it, I could not be hiding it. People can say "you are only looking for it because you know what it says", but there is no way I know what it says, it has been back in PAGB. That was what I did not do then, and I think this brings me to the end of my few remarks to the Committee, Chairman, and I am sorry if I have taken too long, what I did not do then and I have to do now, and I have the agreement of Arthur Andersen to do it, and as soon as practicable arrangements can be put in place that is what will happen and then we shall all know. There is no way I can be wrong because I know I did not have it, I never had it, gentlemen. Perhaps the Commissioner will be gracious when and if, perhaps I should say if and when, we find that cheque.

  12. Thank you for that. Mr O'Sullivan has asked for more time and you have asked for it too. Is it just to look for this cheque or what other things were you wanting more time for?
  (Mr Robinson) The Commissioner may want to speak on this. I have not been there myself. I wish I had, I wish I had done what I said. When I was Paymaster I wish I had gone and looked for the cheque. I am not saying I will find it, apparently it is an awful mess, but an awful mess would not turn me off now in these circumstances. I am charged with criminal offences from nothing and I am totally innocent.

  Chairman: Thank you.

Mr Bottomley

  13. Can I just clear one thing, and you may or may not have to refer to it, Annex GG, which is a letter you sent on 11 February 1991, pages 47 in the manuscript numbers at the bottom.
  (Mr Robinson) Yes.

  14. That is a letter you sent to Transfer Technology Limited on 11 February which is talking about your personal guarantee on amounts due to Transfer Technology from the Roll Centre.
  (Mr Robinson) Yes.

  15. It shows a total of £500,000 with a 40 per cent reduction in December 1990, the amount to be paid in December 1990 £200,000.
  (Mr Robinson) Yes.

  16. So that leaves a significant sum which you personally stood behind?
  (Mr Robinson) Yes.

  17. Can you just confirm to the Committee that you do not know where that £200,000 came from?
  (Mr Robinson) This is the central part of the Commissioner's case. I do not but I can—After all a large part of what she does is speculate and imagine and assume all that. I do not remember it coming in, I do not, and nor does Roger. Let us be quite clear that this is, if you want, the weak part in the argument. May I say something. I am going to answer your question, Peter, very, very directly. For me it never arose, and this is why I have never gone into it in any detail, because I knew I had not received the cheque and I did not have to explain it. I am going to answer your question very directly, I promise you. I do not know. What I think could have happened is, first of all, the Commissioner herself says that Roger could have advanced the date or could have got the date wrong or put it in because he thought the money was coming in. There are notes around in my notebook that suggest we thought we were going to get the payment around that time, there is no doubt about that. When the money did not come, what he could have done was I had a loan account with TransTec at the time which was £200,000—whether it was exactly that, I do not know—and this meant I was loaning the company money, not it loaning me, and that could easily have been contra entered by Roger to deal with that problem. A lot can be made of this but Roger says in his most recent evidence to the Commissioner that he cannot even remember who he mentioned it to. It was so important, he cannot remember whether he mentioned it to me or Brenda. There is an easily available solution to it, which I have described to you.

  18. So the answer to the question is you do not know where that £200,000 came from and you are not sure that it existed, or you are sure that it existed but you do not know where it came from?
  (Mr Robinson) It is a very direct and difficult question to answer. You ask me for my honest opinion, which will annoy everybody I know. I am not even sure that the £200,000 in the end went in.

  19. So this personal guarantee to Transfer Technology of about half a million, which is in this letter dated either 31 January 1991 or 11 February 1991, it is dated both, you are not sure whether that is accurate?
  (Mr Robinson) I do not know what your subsequent question is. What I am saying is that £200,000 I think most likely—I am not sure—because we never see the loan being repaid that I had personally—May I just say something or would you like to come back? This was a merger of five different entities, three different companies. We never find anywhere that the loan that was due to me was repaid by TransTec. That needs looking at because it is only just now—Up to now, Mr Bottomley, I have looked at could I have had the money and I have come to the conclusion absolutely no. Now I come to a completely different issue which is what happened here. I know I used a lax phrase with the Commissioner, and I apologise for that, but that £200,000 there could be the offsetting of my loan account which was never repaid.

1   Note by witness: this is incorrect: there is no exception. Mr Stoney's affidavit is also utterly firm. Back

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