Aitken companies inquiry

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The Independent Online
JONATHAN AITKEN, the disgraced former minister sent to prison last week, faces an inquiry by the Department for Trade and Industry into two companies set up in the name of his teenage daughters.

The Independent on Sunday has learned that DTI investigators plan to examine allegations that Mr Aitken has links to companies whose directors are Alexandra Aitken, his 18-year-old daughter and Petrina Khashoggi, the 18-year-old "love child" he discovered earlier this year.

The companies, set up in March six weeks before the former minister was declared bankrupt, are registered at the same address and have the same secretary as another company of which Mr Aitken is a director.

It is illegal for a bankrupt to act as a director or to be "directly or indirectly" involved in the establishment or management of a firm. Lawyers at Companies House have already written requesting Mr Aitken's resignation as director of Aitken Consultancy and Research, a company set up in January 1998 which has been used to channel the proceeds of his writing.

However, the DTI is also concerned about the companies registered in his daughters' names. It would be impossible for Mr Aitken's creditors to get access to any money in their accounts as they are separate enterprises.

According to documents filed at Companies House, Alexandra Aitken is a director of APA Presentations Limited and Petrina Khashoggi is a director of PCK Ltd. Both companies were bought off the shelf and incorporated with new directors on 9 March 1999. Both are registered at the same Bristol address as Aitken Consultancy and Research Services and have the same company secretary - Lynn Fox, Mr Aitken's personal assistant.

The DTI inquiry follows a complaint from Fraser Kemp, the Labour MP for Houghton and Washington East, who is going to write to Stephen Byers, the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, this week, formally raising his concerns. "I am highly suspicious and feel this should be properly investigated by the DTI in order that those who are legal creditors in this case can get what they are entitled to," he said.

Sources at the DTI confirmed that an inquiry would be launched as soon as a complaint is received. A Companies House official said the setting up of the companies shortly before Mr Aitken was declared bankrupt could appear "suspicious". He said: "If it came to light that he was acting as a shadow director, that would be something the DTI would investigate." Aitken is thought to have a contract worth around pounds 70,000 with HarperCollins to publish his memoirs.

n A study by The Independent on Sunday has revealed that Jonathan Aitken's prison sentence is seven months longer than that received by the average criminal convicted of perjury. The popular perception that 18 months imprisonment, released after nine months on licence, is lenient, is not borne out by statistics. Not only is the average sentence for perjury in the Crown Court just 11 months, but prosecution for perjury is the exception rather than the rule.