Aitken fights bid to seize his pension

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The Independent Online
THE FORMER Tory minister Jonathan Aitken is facing an unprecedented attempt to seize his Commons pension to help to repay his pounds 2.2m debts. Aitken, who is serving 18 months for perjury, stands to lose an annual pounds 24,000, payable from his 60th birthday.

Baker Tilly, the firm appointed as bankruptcy trustee, confirmed yesterday that it had applied to the Parliamentary Pension Fund for the seizure. It is the first such request in the history of Parliament.

The former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who is 57 this month, is owed the pension for the 23 years he served as an MP before stepping down from Thanet South at the 1997 general election. He was told of the move in a letter sent to Stanford Hill prison, Kent.

Aitken's friends said he would fight the case in the courts, citing the fact that civil service pensions have always been exempted from bankrupts' estates and claiming that MPs' funds should be treated similarly.

Paul Gordon-Saker, head of corporate recovery and insolvency at Stephenson Harwood, the solicitors advising Baker Tilly, said yesterday: "A letter has been written to the Parliamentary Pension Fund with this request. Every bankrupt has his pension fund obtained by the trustee for the benefit of creditors they are acting for."

Aitken's main creditors are The Guardian newspaper and Granada Television, who Aitken unsuccessfully sued for libel in one of the most spectacular political lawsuits in recent memory. Both The Guardian and Granada rejected an offer of pounds 840,000 to settle the libel costs just before Aitken declared himself bankrupt in May.

Aitken's friends yesterday described the unprecedented move as further evidence of his unfair hounding. One close friend, the Tory MP Alan Duncan, described the application as a "vicious persecution. In my view Stephenson Harwood and Baker Tilly have done nothing by their conduct to improve their professional reputation. My personal view is that the conduct of both firms is repugnant," he said.

Mr Duncan said Aitken was "certain" to challenge any attempt to seize his pension, and would argue that occupational pension funds are owned by the fund's trustees, not contributing individuals. It would also be pointed out that civil servants have not lost their pensions when declared bankrupt.

Mr Duncan said he believed that the Parliamentary Pension Fund was seeking legal advice on the request from Baker Tilly.