Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Seventh Report

Annex C

Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

from Mr Tom Bower


Thank you for your letter of 22 March 2001 concerning Geoffrey Robinson and the new facts revealed in my book, 'The Paymaster'.

The book's relevant revelation is that Geoffrey Robinson lied to the Select Committee on Standards and Procedures concerning the payment of £200,000 by Hollis. He had told the committee that he had neither solicited nor received £200,000 for his chairmanship of Hollis.

In their 18th Report published on 14 July 1998, the committee concluded that there was no evidence that Robinson had either requested nor received £200,000 for what he called an unremunerated position as chairman of Hollis.

Through a source, I received a copy of an invoice for £200,000 which Robinson presented to Michael Stoney, Hollis's finance director, for his work at Hollis. The invoice, dated 24 October 1990, was typed on 'Orchard's' notepaper, the address of his home in Surrey. This invoice was not available to the Select Committee in1998.

Other research mentioned in the book, explained below, proves that the records of Arthur Andersen [Hollis's administrator] confirm that the £200,000 was paid into an account nominated at Robinson's request.

Over breakfast, on Thursday, 7 December 2000 at the Grosvenor House, I presented the summary of the evidence to Robinson and asked whether he submitted an invoice for £200,000 on 'Orchard's' stationary for his work at Hollis.

'Yes,' Robinson replied 'For my work at Lock.'

'So you did request compensation (for your work at Hollis)?'

'Yes,' he replied acknowledging he presented the 'Orchards' invoice to Michael Stoney. 'I was soliciting payment but I don't know why it was on "Orchard's" paper,' he said. 'I did ask for payment for my work at Lock. There was an exchange of letters.' He denied that there had been deliberate deception. 'It's a mistake,' he said.

'And you know that there is proof that the cheque was issued?'

'Yes,' he admitted. 'But no one knows into which account it was paid.' He asked me, 'Do you know the account?'

Robinson's admission that he had requested and received £200,000 from Hollis contradicts the evidence he presented to the Select Committee.

It is relevant that on page 239 of his memoirs, 'Unconventional Minister' concerning the £200,000 payment from Hollis, he wrote:

'I neither requested nor received any compensation as non-executive chairman, nor was any payment made to me, despite an erroneous entry in the 1988/89 account showing the chairman, myself, receiving £200,000—a mystery (to myself).'

Within those thirty-three words rest the proof of his dishonesty. The £200,000 payment was entered in the accounts of 1990, not 1988/89. In 1990, he was an executive chairman. He had been the non-executive chairman in 1988/89 when he was not entitled to any income. By juxtaposing the unrelated events, he sought to confuse the reader about his non-receipt of the £200,000. I challenged him about the passage. He replied that it was 'a mistake'.

The following, I believe, is the sequence of events as described in my book, pp 84/5.

Although the invoice dated 24 October 1990 was on 'Orchard's' notepaper, Geoffrey Robinson requested that the cheque should be made payable to TransTec. Robinson told me that incongruity was the fault of a secretary who used the 'wrong notepaper' but since he personally presented the invoice to Stoney, he had ample opportunity to obtain a properly headed invoice.

The following day, Michael Stoney scribbled 'Approved' on Robinson's invoice. No cheque was issued and Robinson complained. 'I want £200,000,' Robinson said alternately to Kevin and his father. Finally Robert Maxwell accepted that Robinson's demand could not be resisted.

On 16 November 1990, Stoney sent an internal memorandum stating that a £200,000 payment to Robinson for 'management fees' should be included in Hollis's 1990 accounts. [Com rep St&P p.23]

Ten days later, on 26 November 1990, Stoney sent another memorandum to Kevin. This memorandum was not available to the Select Committee in 1998.

Stoney's memorandum reads: 'I understand from Geoffrey Robinson that at a recent meeting with him you agreed that Hollis Industries would pay Geoffrey a fee for management services of £200k. I enclose herewith a copy of his invoice and would be grateful if you could approve this. Geoffrey has chased me a couple of time on this matter.'

In haste, Kevin scribbled on the memorandum, 'B/F RM for approval'. Translated, it was an instruction to Stoney to, 'Bring forward to Robert Maxwell for approval'. At 5 pm on 13 December 1990, Geoffrey Robinson entered Robert Maxwell's office. He demanded payment of £200,000 for his work at Hollis. Robert Maxwell relented.

Soon after, Stoney and Robinson met at the Charterhouse bank. Stoney noted Robinson's banking details for the cheque. Robinson no longer wanted the cheque payable to TransTec but to another payee. Subsequently, Robinson telephoned Shirley Caddock, Stoney's secretary, and asked that the cheque should be made payable to a company which he named. In need hand-writing, Caddock wrote on Robinson's invoice that the cheque was to be paid to Robinson 'personally' without VAT since he was not registered.

On 21 December 1990, a cheque drawn on Pergamon AGB for £200,000, was cashed. Stoney wrote 'Paid' on Robinson's invoice and noted that the money, while paid by 'PAGB' should be 'recharged to H. Industries', namely Hollis. In PAGB's cash book, the payment was entered under the name, 'Orchards'. The £200,000 fee to Robinson was entered in Hollis's final accounts, completed by the auditors, which Robinson eventually signed.

The following is from my book page 218ff:

In November 1999, Hugh Aldous of Robson Rhodes, appointed by the DTI to investigate Hollis, invited Michael Stoney for an interview. Aldous told Stoney that during his intensive search through Arthur Andersen's warehouse in June 1999, he had found Robinson's original 'Orchards' invoice which Robinson had presented to Stoney in October 1990. On the invoice, Stoney saw his scribbled 'Paid'. Aldous stated that NatWest had destroyed the records and he had been uncertain whether the payment had been made until he had found Pergamon AGB's computer cash book. The cash book showed that during Arthur Andersen's reconstruction of Maxwell's labyrithine transactions, the payment on cheque number 1751 had been credited to 'Orchards—6933' rather than to Robinson. Subsequently no one at Arthur Andersen associated Robinson with 'Orchards' and Arthur Andersen's code number, 99-7976. 'The cash book,' Aldous told Stoney, 'shows a £200,000 payment to G Robinson'. Aldous added, 'Even if we can't find Pergamon AGB's bank statements, the cash book is conclusive.' The £200,000 had been paid. The mystery was the identity of the account into which the cheque was paid.

Without the records, there was evidence that a £200,000 cheque for Robinson's benefit had been cashed but the final destination might be unknown. At that stage in their conversation, Aldous delivered his final bombshell. He revealed to Stoney that despite Shirley Caddock, his secretary, having written on the 'Orchard's' invoice that the money was to be paid 'personally' to Robinson, the £200,000 cheque had been made payable to a company. Bewildered by the succession of revelations, Stoney did not recognise or remember the company's name which Aldous mentioned.

On his return home, Stoney telephoned Bernard O'Sullivan, Robinson's solicitor. 'I've just been told that Geoffrey was paid the £200,000,' said Stoney.

'Oh, didn't we tell you?' replied the lawyer.

Later that day Robinson telephoned Stoney. 'I'm sorry, we should have told you,' said Robinson. 'It seems that the papers were discovered but I knew absolutely nothing about it.' And Robinson added prophetically, 'But there's no evidence of the account into which the money was paid.'

I have good reason to believe that the invoice and evidence of the payment is described in Aldous's report submitted to the DTI.

In reply to your questions, the 'Orchard's' payment is different to £150,000 from C&S on the evidence of Stoney, Caddock, Aldous and Robinson himself.

Concerning the breakfast conversation at the Grosvenor Hotel, Mr Robinson had not denied the accuracy of my account since its publication.

I hope this is helpful.

26 March 2001

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