Brothers `helped by top Israelis'

The Maxwell Trial: Day 53
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The Independent Online

Financial Correspondent

Robert Maxwell's two youngest sons had help from top Israelis, including a former senior civil servant, to negotiate a rescue deal with a mysterious Arab investor, a deal called "the Hand of God", a jury heard yesterday.

David Vogel, a partner at the law firm Titmuss Sainer & Webb, testified at the fraud trial of Kevin and Ian Maxwell about frantic attempts by the two brothers in November 1991 to find an investor to save the Maxwell empire from collapse.

Vogel, whose firm advised the Maxwells, said he travelled to Jerusalem with Ian Maxwell on 23 November 1991 after being told by Kevin there was a serious investor who might inject hundreds of thousands of pounds into the Maxwell group.

The prosecutor said Ian and one of the Maxwells' Israeli lawyers, Yaakov Neeman, met Israeli Finance Minister Yitzhak Modai on 24 November. Vogel said they later told him there were investors prepared to invest pounds 400m.

Neeman wrote in a letter shown in court that contact with the unidentified investor had been made by Ambassador David Kimche, former director-general at the Israeli foreign ministry. Vogel said he later told Britain's Serious Fraud Office the mysterious investor was an Arab. He said banks demanding repayment of large debts from private Maxwell companies were told of the search for an investor.

"God Himself is being considered," Vogel wrote in one document seen in court.

The events he described took place after Robert Maxwell died mysteriously at sea on 5 November 1991, and around the time that hundreds of millions of pounds were found missing from Maxwell company pension funds.

In the end, the rescue investment never materialised. In December 1991 Kevin and Ian were forced off their company boards and the vast Maxwell business holdings later collapsed.

The two brothers and a third defendant Larry Trachtenberg have been charged with conspiring in 1991 to defraud pensioners by misusing pension funds to try to prop up the indebted private companies. They have pleaded not guilty.

The search for an investor was important because the prosecution alleges Kevin used pension funds to raise bank loans at a time when he knew the Maxwell empire was in perilous financial trouble. But Kevin's lawyer Alun Jones QC said Kevin had reason to believe he would find an investor to rescue the group.

Robert Maxwell, who was a big investor in Israel, was buried in Jerusalem with a hero's sendoff, following a funeral attended by Israeli President Chaim Herzog. The hearing continues on Monday.