Pension reform a failure, says Maxwell group: Security committee told Goode report proposals leave funds open to misuse

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MAXWELL pensioners told MPs yesterday that the Goode report on pensions reform published last year fails to ensure the security of pension fund assets.

Ken Trench, chairman of the Maxwell Pensioners' Action Group, said Robert Maxwell would still have been able to misuse the pension funds even if all the Goode report's recommendations had been law at that time.

Mr Trench told the Commons Social Security Select Committee that one of the main flaws in the system, which allowed Maxwell to steal pounds 460m from the pension funds, was the failure of the Investment Management Regulatory Organisation to carry out its self-regulatory duties.

Yet the Goode report recommends leaving the regulation of pension fund investment within the control of Imro, Mr Trench said.

'On its past performance, both in respect of its own ability to appoint and monitor members, and also the willingness of its members to 'blow the whistle' on suspect fellow members, Imro is unlikely to gain the faith of pension scheme members regarding its ability to protect pension fund investment from a determined fraudster.'

Robin Clark, Imro's director of member assessment, said afterwards: 'Pensioners should judge Imro on its performance now.'

Without commenting on Imro's performance during the Maxwell saga, Mr Clark said that since the emergence of the Maxwell frauds Imro had changed out of recognition, with a new chairman and new chief executive, a modified structure and more than double the staff.

Mr Clark said Imro had been under close scrutiny by the Securities and Investments Board, the investment regulator, and the SIB was satisfied with its performance.

The Maxwell pensioners' group also said that Goode paid no attention to the problem of ownership of investment management companies handling pension funds. Bishopsgate Investment Management, which held pounds 700m of Maxwell pensions, was beneficially owned by a Liechtenstein foundation when it was accepted as a member of Imro in 1988. BIM was the worst hit by the Maxwell frauds. A year later BIM's ownership was transferred to a British-registered charity that was one of 400 companies within the Maxwell empire.

'Our understanding is that this was done because the Maxwell Foundation in Liechtenstein was unwilling to produce accounts asked for by Imro,' Mr Trench said.

Mr Clark said the change of ownership was not due to the direct instigation of Imro, that Imro had always regarded BIM as part of the Maxwell empire, and that Liechtenstein foundations were not required to produce accounts.