BMW chairman ready to give evidence to MG Rover inquiry

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The Independent Online

The chairman of BMW is keen to give evidence to the committee of MPs investigating the collapse of the car maker MG Rover last year after the takeover of the business by the Phoenix consortium.

Dr Helmut Panke said he was ready and willing to appear before the Commons Trade and Industry Select Committee if asked. "Yes, we will attend if we are called, it is the absolutely logical thing to do," he said.

Mr Panke, who was BMW's finance director at the time the German car maker sold Rover to Phoenix for a nominal £10 in May 2000, said he was keen to set the record straight over claims by the then secretary of state for trade and industry Stephen Byers that ministers had been kept in the dark.

The MPs are investigating not just the demise of MG Rover with 6,000 job losses last April but also the role of the Government in the original sale of the company in 2000 to Phoenix Venture Holdings, a consortium of West Midlands businessmen led by a former Austin Rover chief executive John Towers.

Mr Byers and Patricia Hewitt, who was the trade and industry secretary at the time of MG Rover's demise, are likely to be called to give evidence. Although Mr Byers denied knowledge of BMW's imminent plans either to close or sell Rover, the German car maker insists he was warned on several occasions that it was "five to midnight".

A spokeswoman for the committee said it had not decided who to call to give evidence and did not expect to conduct oral hearings until the end of March. The Department for Trade and Industry has appointed independent inspectors to conduct an investigation into the Rover collapse.

BMW gave Phoenix a dowry of £600m when it took control of MG Rover, but Dr Panke said the most it was likely to receive back from the administrators of the failed company was £7m to £8m it was owed for engine deliveries. He was speaking as BMW published a report from Oxford Economic Forecasting which calculates that the car maker contributes £2.5bn a year to the UK's economic output.

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