Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Seventh Report

Mr Robinson's Detailed Response to the Complaint

40.  As already indicated,[47] Mr Robinson has categorically denied ever having sought or received any payment in respect of his position as chairman of Hollis Industries plc. He told me that the management contract negotiated between Transfer Technology Ltd and Hollis Industries "had nothing to do with my role as chairman of Hollis". He added "This [the management contract] was expressly done through Transfer Technology Ltd ..." (Annex B).

41.  Mr Robinson's account of the circumstances surrounding the making by Pergamon AGB of a payment of £200,000, purportedly in settlement of Mr Robinson's invoice for management fees in relations to Hollis Industries plc, is as follows (Annex B):

    —   The reason why the invoice was typed on his home address writing paper (Orchards) was that he had met Mr Kevin Maxwell the previous day (as confirmed by Mr Robinson's diary) and that he had been working at home on the day the invoice was compiled.

    —   The invoice made it quite clear that Mr Robinson wished the money to be paid to Transfer Technology Limited.

    —   In a letter to Mr Robinson's solicitors dated 22 February 1999, Mr Kevin Maxwell had stated:

    "My clear recollection is that my father finally refused to sanction any such payment, despite having previously verbally agreed. He was of the opinion that Maxwell interests had lost too much money in Hollis and he was not prepared to sanction any payments to Geoffrey Robinson or any company associated with him. Consequently, no payment was made."

    —   Mr Stoney had sworn an affidavit in November 1999 in which he said that Mr Robinson received only one payment from a Maxwell-related company—a fee of £150,000 plus expenses from Central and Sheerwood plc for his contribution towards a "turnaround in profitability at A L Dunn & Co Ltd and Coventry Apex Engineering Co Ltd" (two subsidiaries of Central and Sheerwood).

    —   Dr M S Ahmed and Mr Roger Davis, respectively the then managing director and financial director of Transfer Technology Ltd had sworn affidavits to the effect that "the money was not paid to Transfer Technology Ltd".[48]

    —   Mr Robinson was willing to allow his personal bank statements for the relevant period to be examined in order to verify whether a £200,000 payment had been credited to his account.[49]

    —  In the course of the DTI inquiry both Mr Robinson's personal bank account records and those of his wife and children for 1991 had been fully disclosed to the investigators.[50]

42.  Mr Robinson's letter of 23 March concluded:

    "The details of cheque number 1751 paid out by [Pergamon] AGB for £200,000 in December 1990 are correct. What neither I, nor the DTI inspector, could find out was to whom it was paid, despite twelve months of hard searching. Let me again be categoric. I did not receive this money directly or indirectly. No one wishes more than I to know what happened to the cheque".

43.  Mr Robinson added:

    "By the end of 1990 it was clear that the enlarged group, which included Lock, would benefit from the work done at that company and on this basis it was accepted that the fee for the management contract was not going to be received".

44.  In his second letter, dated 29 march 2001 (Annex HH), in response to written questions from me (Annex II), Mr Robinson said that he had told Mr Bower that "there was a £200,000 payment due to Transfer Technology Limited for various management services provided to Lock" and that he [Mr Robinson] "had neither directly nor indirectly received the money".

45.  Mr Robinson offered a different interpretation from that made by Mr Bower of Mr Robinson's remark at their Grosvenor House meeting in December 2000 concerning the traceability of the account to which the payment of £200,000 by Pergamon AGB was credited. As Mr Robinson put it:

    "My last remark to him, which I recall very clearly as I was fed up with the meeting, was: 'Why don't you do something useful and find out where this cheque went?'".

46.  Mr Robinson also responded to allegations in Mr Bower's book that Mr Stoney had been misled by Mr Robinson in the course of swearing his affidavit. Mr Robinson said that a full meeting had taken place between him, his legal advisers and Mr Stoney in April 1999. The wording of the note on the meeting (KK) was agreed with Mr Stoney. Mr Stoney had sworn his affidavit some months later "only after reviewing all of the relevant paperwork and under no pressure from myself".[51]

47.  As regards Mrs Caddock's handwritten note on the invoice purporting to record Mr Robinson's telephoned request to make the management fee cheque payable to him personally, Mr Robinson said:

    "I do not recall any conversation on this matter with Mrs Caddock, although given her position as Mr Stoney's secretary, it is possible that I spoke to her. Like Mr Stoney, I cannot account for or understand the note in her handwriting, save to say it may simply have been a misunderstanding. The invoice quite categorically states that payment should be made to Transfer Technology Ltd."

48.  Mr Robinson also confirmed that "we have never had an account in the name of 'Orchards'".

49.  In response to the point made by Mr Heathcoat-Amory in his second letter, dated 26 March 2001 (Annex F), concerning the entry in the published accounts of Hollis Industries plc for the period covering 1990-91, referring to a £200,000 management fee payable to the chairman of the company, Mr Robinson maintained that this was an error and that the same view had been taken both by the then Commissioner and the Committee. He added that he had offered to pay for the cost of conducting a professional search of Pergamon AGB's accounts for this purpose, but that neither the then Commissioner nor the Committee had taken up his suggestion. Such a search was eventually carried out as part of the DTI inquiry and it was this which had led to the discovery of the payment by way of cheque No. 001751.

50.  I interviewed Mr Robinson on 31 March 2001 (Annex JJ) and went through with him in more detail a number of the points contained in his letters of 23 and 29 March 2001.

51.  Mr Robinson strongly maintained his denial that he had ever received a payment of £200,000 in respect of services to Lock. In the following exchanges he outlined what he assumed to be the possible means by which, according to his accusers, he could have concealed the payment:—

    "MR ROBINSON: I went there and did a secret deal with Bob and pocketed the cheque, paid it in secretly at—what branch is it of the NatWest?—paid it in. I have never been there in my life, never in my life. It is just a farcical, ludicrous scenario, but that is when I had to face and answer because that is the only—well, there are two alternatives really: Bob paying it to himself somewhere or to somebody else somewhere and me collecting a cheque illicitly from Bob and paying it in.

      MS FILKIN: Well somebody paid in a cheque.

MR ROBINSON: I didn't. I never received the cheque and I did not do any of that. The answer—what I said to Hugh Aldous[52]—I had him in my flat for this purpose. I told him, "Look, you must think this. Why would he do this?" He said, "He owed you one." I said, "Okay, but why would he have to pay it in that way? There was a legitimate invoice against which he could have paid and everybody would have been very happy." He said, "Then you would have paid less tax." I said, "You don't know Mr Maxwell very well, he is not the sort of chap who gives you a deal like that... ", not that I had many dealings with him, but this is how one knows these things, I had none with him in fact. He would want some quid pro quo. He would want some reduction in the amount he was paying, if he was going to do that, which he didn't. Why would he do it? There is just no reason for doing it and then paying me £150,000 the next week officially and properly. In my mind none of it stacks up. I did not have it. There could be another line of argument, Ms Filkin, which says, "If it is paid into TransTec, there is no problem, it is not declarable, your directorship but it was nothing to do with your directorship of TransTec, you have no problem." That was suggested to me by my own lawyers, all I have to say is, "It was paid to TransTec" and that is the end of that, but I cannot say that because it was not true. It was not paid to me either. You have four people who knew about it, five including myself: Sami Ahmed, the managing director of TransTec; Roger Davis, finance director, saying, "No cheque from Maxwell came in"; then you have Kevin [Maxwell] and Michael Stoney both saying, "No, Geoffrey was not paid. No company of his."" [53]

52.  I then asked Mr Robinson how he explained the credit for £200,000 which had been recorded as received in Transfer Technology Ltd's books on 10 December 1990:—

"MS FILKIN: Yes. So where did the £200,000 which did go into TransTec about that time come from?

       MR ROBINSON: I cannot tell you that, I do not know.

       MS FILKIN: So how can those other people say that a cheque did not come from Maxwell when that they cannot say...

       MR ROBINSON: They wouldn't know. They say it did not go through them, therefore I think they both in their minds leave open the idea I separately went to Maxwell and did the deal. They know, on the assumption they recollect—well, Roger [Davis] would know where the money— it is £200,000. Let's take them one by one. Sami [Ahmed] would know he had been paid for the management contract, he would be delighted, we would be rejoicing in TransTec if we had got this money, it is a small company, £200,000 is a lot of money. Roger would know because he would check where the money had come from.

       MS FILKIN: So he can tell us?

       MR ROBINSON: Roger cannot remember where the money came from and I do not know. I can only think of three sources really.

       MS FILKIN: But how can they then say that it didn't come from a Maxwell company?

       MR ROBINSON: They are saying to the best of their recollection it did not. I can tell you this, if that money had come from Maxwell for the management contract, we would all have known and all have celebrated.

       MS FILKIN: I take that. I hear what you say, that it did not come for those services.

       MR ROBINSON: Or from Maxwell. They would all know. It was a Pergamon cheque. When it comes in, you know presumably where it has been paid in from.

       MS FILKIN: I do not see how the two things can be true. You can say, "I do not know where the cheque came from. I cannot remember." But that does not allow you to say, "It did not come from a Maxwell company." You cannot say the two things.

       MR ROBINSON: It could have been an inter-company transfer, it does not have to be a cheque.

       MS FILKIN: No, of course not.

       MR ROBINSON: But Roger cannot remember where the £200,000 came from. It is only in the nominal ledger, he is quite clear the accounts for 200,000 new money coming in."[54]

53.  I then pressed Mr Robinson about the suggestion that a cheque for £200,000 would have represented a substantial sum for a small company such as Transfer Technology Ltd and that both its source and its ultimate purpose must have been known to the management:—

"MS FILKIN: What you have said to me is, "There is a little company which would have been delighted if it got a £200,000 cheque because ...

       MR ROBINSON: From...

       MS FILKIN: Well, that it would have been delighted if it got £200,000. That is a lot of money to this little company.

       MR ROBINSON: I did say it in the context of from Maxwell in particular.

       MS FILKIN: I understand that, but it seems to me you have to assume it holds good, that £200,000 is a large sum of money, it is a large sum of money for this company. We are planning to search for a £200,000 sum of money, which is a large sum of money in that context. Most people are saying, "We are sure it did not come from Maxwell or a Maxwell company but we cannot remember who it came from."

       MR ROBINSON: Yes.

       MS FILKIN: All I am saying is, I do not know how you can say those two things in that situation. And I do not know how you can say it if you think it is a large sum of money.

       MR ROBINSON: We had bigger sums of money. Let's take them one by one. We had bigger. We had a payment for £1,000,000, our biggest order, and a cheque for a million or something like that, but £200,000 was a lot of money and coming from Maxwell. What they are saying is, they would have remembered it had it come from Maxwell. There is something different about getting a management fee from Maxwell from getting payment from a Korean steel company for an EDT machine. We would remember that too, they opened champagne in the bank, it would be that sort of occasion. There was no such occasion for a Maxwell cheque but there were—the previous year my brother had put £200,000 in, Madame Bourgeois[55] had put in £100,000, I think, so money in that sense was coming in and they would have been more normal. They would have been things since I was funding the company they would have expected and not taken to be out of the ordinary, whereas the Maxwell thing would have been somewhat out of the ordinary and therefore, I think, in their minds and to my mind certainly, recollectable.[56]

54.  I also asked Mr Robinson whether he was aware of anyone other than himself who might have provided £200,000 to clear some of the Roll Centre debt. Mr Robinson replied:—

    "The £200,000 could have come from a number of sources. It could have been my brother—he doesn't recall it. It could have been Madame Bourgeois who helped me in a number of respects. It could have been an inter-company transfer, which initially was the most likely thing Roger would do. But I do not know where that money came from and I do not know why Roger made that entry which he did. Roger [Davis] cannot recall that."[57]

47  See paragraph 7. Back

48  See paragraphs 73 and 79. Back

49  During the Committee's 1998 inquiry Mr Robinson's personal financial records were independently scrutinised; no evidence of any such payment was found. Back

50  Statements for 1990 had been destroyed in line with bank policy. Back

51   For Mr Stoney's account of this matter, see paragraphs 59 and 60. Back

52  The inspector appointed by the DTI (see paragraph 22). Back

53  Annex JJ. Back

54  Annex JJ. Back

55  In his book, An Unconventional Minister, Mr Robinson describes Madame Bourgeois as a businesswoman and car importer. Back

56  Annex JJ. Back

57  Annex JJ. Back

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