`Phoenix' directors are on the rise

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The Independent Online
Corporate theft and unauthorised insurance business is on the increase, according to the annual report from the DTI's Investigations and Enforcement Directorate published yesterday.

The DTI received a record 1,297 complaints against companies in the year to March 1997. The main type of alleged misconduct was theft, up from 143 complaints in 1995/96 to 187 last year, and alleged unauthorised conduct of insurance business, up from 26 complaints to 51.

Complaints over alleged fraudulent trading fell during the same period from 61 complaints to 51.

During the same period the London Stock Exchange referred 36 cases of insider dealing to the DTI for possible investigation, up from 28 cases the previous year.

The Directorate has repeatedly been attacked in the past by MPs and insolvency practitioners for being inadequately resourced, considering the huge number of rogue directors and fraudsters operating today. Earlier this year, Nigel Griffiths, the incoming Competition and Consumer Affairs Minister, made it a priority to stamp out "phoenix" directors, who go bust leaving creditors out of pocket, only to re-appear elsewhere under a different trading name.

The Directorate has worked alongside Companies House to tackle the problem of phoenix directors. A record total of 1,219 directors were disqualified in 1996/97. Of these, 1,040 unfit directors were disqualified following the failure of their companies, while 179 were disqualified after being convicted of company related offences.

The DTI has wide powers to tackle corporate wrongdoing, and most of its investigations are carried out under the Companies Act. Last year the DTI launched 225 investigations involving 417 companies, and completed 221 investigations involving 408 companies. The figures for investigations launched were the highest ever.

Much of the DTI's work consisted of sifting through the vast number of complaints it receives from the public, companies and insolvency practitioners, and deciding which can be successfully pursued.

Last year the Directorate considered in detail complaints into 1,297 companies.