Tycoon pondered takeover of Spurs

The Maxwell Trial; Day 26

JOHN WILLCOCK

Financial Correspondent

Robert Maxwell was considering a takeover at Tottenham Hotspur football club a few months before his mysterious death, an Old Bailey fraud trial heard yesterday.

Talks began with the former Spurs chairman, Irvine Scholar, in November and December 1990, Steve Wootten, former Mirror Group auditor, said.

He was asked to look into the affairs of the north London club for Maxwell and the idea was that the buyout might take place the following summer.

On the 26th day of the trial of Maxwell's sons, Kevin and Ian, and two Maxwell advisers, Mr Wootten of accountants Coopers & Lybrand told the court that in May 1991 he did an up-date report for Maxwell.

In the end nothing came of the proposal, although Maxwell did lend Mr Scholar pounds 1m to pay the final instalment of the transfer fee of Gary Lineker, the England striker, from Barcelona.

On 5 November 1991 Maxwell died after falling from his yacht near the Canary Islands. It was later discovered that huge amounts from the Mirror Group's pension fund had been lent to private Maxwell companies, the court heard.

Mr Alun Jones QC, defending Kevin, accused Mr Wootten of "failing in his professional obligations" by not quizzing the Mirror Group's "domineering" boss about why he was lending hundreds of millions of pounds to his private companies.

The accountant, who denied that suggestion, was then asked if he was trying to put the blame on Mirror Group directors for his own shortcomings because he knew he faced a disciplinary inquiry by the Institute of Chartered Accountants over the preparation of the accounts for part of the Mirror Group.

"That is not the case," replied Mr Wootten, who also denied suggestions that he was aware of possible criticism from the Department of Trade and Industry and because of his loyalty to Coopers.

He told the jury he had never suggested to anyone that he had been misled by Kevin Maxwell.

Mr Jones: "It suits Coopers to have a small bunch of conspirators who lied to one of the big six accountants, doesn't it ?"

Mr Wootten: "Not at all, no."

Asked if any actions were pending against Coopers following the collapse of the Maxwell group, he said there was one by the administrators of Maxwell Communications Corporation and another by the liquidators of First Tokyo, a firm in which Maxwell had been interested.

A third action related to Bishopsgate Investment Management had been settled by Coopers but he had "no idea" of the cash involved.

In the dock are Kevin and Ian Maxwell, financial adviser Larry Trachtenberg and former finace director Robert Bunn. All deny conspiracy to defraud.

Kevin alone denies conspiring with his father to defraud the pension funds by misuse of pounds 100m of its investments.

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