`Investment managers kept in the dark over transfer'

Steve Boggan on the trail of pounds 32m in shares from Mirror Group pension fund
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The Independent Online
It was on 3 September 1990 - one year and two months before his father fell overboard from his yacht off the Canary Islands - that Kevin Maxwell's involvement in the movement of pounds 32m in pension fund shares first began.

The fragile pyramid of lending that was to collapse around Robert Maxwell's ears had already begun to crack when, as a director of Bishopsgate Investment Management Ltd (BIM), which administered a variety of Maxwell group pension funds, Kevin Maxwell wrote to the company secretary of Euris, a Paris- based investment trust, telling him of the transfer of shares to one of Robert Max- well's private companies.

At that point, and for the following year, Jean-Marie Grisard, Euris' company secretary, knew more about the ownership of the shares than the men administering the pension funds.

In a letter, personally signed, Kevin Maxwell wrote: "Please note that the above shares have now transferred to our associated company, Pergamon Holdings Ltd, Maxwell House, London."

On the same day, a pounds 22.5m loan was raised for Pergamon - later to become Headington Holdings Ltd - by the Banque Nationale de Paris and the shares were used as security. BNP still holds the shares and is fighting a court action to keep hold of them.

Before his trial, sources examining the loss of the shares told The Independent that Kevin Maxwell had not informed the relevant officials within BIM of the movement of the shares. It is not known to what extent other trustees, who included Robert and Ian Maxwell, were kept informed.

However, a schedule of shareholdings was produced each month for use by officials and trustees - but this incorrectly showed over a 13-month period that the Euris shares were still in the BIM portfolio.

Harold Abrahart, the investment manager who drew up the schedule and who was responsible for keeping records of shares registered to BIM, said: "I should have been told about any sales or transfers of shares from the pension schemes to anybody, be it to another company in-house or to a stockbroker in order to enable me to keep track of which shares we still owned.

"My schedule was passed around at the quarterly investment committee meetings." Asked whether he believed Kevin Maxwell ought to have informed him of the movement of the shares, he replied: "Absolutely. If they were sold, he should have passed me a copy of the sale agreement between the two companies, which I would then have treated as a contract of sale, because that would also state the cash figures involved so that I could add that to the amount they owed us.

"We would not have passed away assets of that sort of value to another company ... without getting some money back for them."

Asked whether he was aware of BIM receiving any money for the shares, Mr Abrahart replied: "No."

"If they had been lent to Headington, I should have been informed that the shares were being registered into another company's name, but I wasn't."

Mr Abrahart was not the only official kept in the dark. Inquiries by The Independent have established that Trevor Cook, the group pension fund manager, and Jeff Highfield, the financial controller of the group pensions department, were also not told by Mr Maxwell that he knew the shares had gone.

They still appeared on the last monthly schedule, dated 31 October 1991, a week before Robert Maxwell died, and are now the subject of litigation between Neil Cooper of Robson Rhodes, the administrator of BIM, and Banque Nationale de Paris. Lawyers for Mr Cooper are claiming the Euris shares were improperly removed from BIM and that they, or their value in cash, should be returned.

Kevin Maxwell has always said his actions were determined by his domineering father. During his court case, he said shares were moved around the group in complex stock-lending arrangements between all the Maxwell companies.

However, if the Euris shares had been "lent" to Headington Holdings, then collateral for them should have been put up by Headington. Mr Abrahart and other sources said they never saw any such security or value accrue to BIM, the pension funds' administrator.

Interest payments and fees should have been payable by the Maxwell companies "borrowing" the shares - usually as collateral against the loans - to BIM. The Independent has obtained invoices and payments made within the group stock-lending programme and Euris does not feature in any of them.