Matter of trust for minister

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The Independent Online
In office but not in power. The famous quip about the last Conservative government could now be made about Geoffrey Robinson, the multi-millionaire Labour Treasury minister whose Chianti-shire villa is where the Prime Minister spends his hols.

For the next time Mr Robinson stands up to discuss government plans to limit tax breaks for the middle classes, he will be in serious danger of tumbling backwards into a credibility gap as wide as the distance between Whitehall and Guernsey.

The latter is home to a highly tax-efficient offshore trust holding at least pounds 12m which stands to benefit Mr Robinson and his family. The minister insists he has little or no influence on where the trustees invest.

As it happens, they have decided to pour huge sums into Midlands engineering company TransTec and Coventry City FC. Mr Robinson is the largest shareholder in TransTec, heir to several former Robert Maxwell companies. He is also the football club's most famous supporter.

Inquiries into Mr Robinson's shareholding in TransTec are hardly welcomed at the company's HQ. After taking legal advice, the company insists that under the Companies Act it must only disclose the shares held by current directors, not holdings of past directors. Mr Robinson resigned just seven months ago when he joined Tony Blair's Government. He is a member of a government advocating freedom of information.

Meanwhile, the Robinson fortune, held on or offshore, is fraying at the still well-upholstered seams. His stake in TransTec, worth pounds 30m earlier this month, tumbled to just over pounds 20m last week. The shares slumped 19p to 67p on Thursday.