Examination of witness (Question 1-19)|
TUESDAY 1 MAY 2001
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
timeLock 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
boxwe will come to it I am suresaying, "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
(Mr Robinson) You would not want to hear a few words
from me first?
(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
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
10. The £200,000.
(Mr Robinson) Which was for a management contract,
clearly negotiatedno question about itbetween 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 pointit
is in my diarythat 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
(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
proofbut I do not think it isthat 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 thatthis is the Commissioner's
supposition, not mineand 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 200,000it 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 alreadyI can go
into further detail if the Committee wishes on this pointthat
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 meBrenda, who knows my own accounts
and any loan commitments to the Roll Centreand you have
four utterly firm affidavits, with one exception,
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 stubwhat 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
(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.
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
(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 canAfter 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 £200,000whether it was exactly that,
I do not knowand 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 likelyI
am not surebecause we never see the loan being repaid that
I had personallyMay 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 nowUp 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