Maxwell's rage at `craven bunch of disloyal bastards'

The Maxwell Trial: DAY 16
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Robert Maxwell exploded with rage at a board meeting and told directors who dared to question his business methods that they were a "craven bunch of disloyal bastards", an Old Bailey jury was told yesterday.

The late media tycoon's volcanic temper was described in court during cross-examination of Peter Laister, a former senior non-executive director who led a rebellion against him.

Mr Laister, who was also a director of Inchcape and Thorn EMI, went on to deny defence accusations that he doctored a crucial memorandum which gave details of transfers from MCC to Maxwell companies.

A key prosecution witness, Mr Laister became deputy chairman and, for a brief spell, chairman, of Maxwell Communications Corporation after the publisher's death.

The court was told that he took action in August 1991 with a number of colleagues as concern grew over multi-million pound loans flowing from MCC to private Maxwell companies.

Robert Maxwell flew into a rage when he was challenged by Mr Laister and other non-family directors, the court was told on day 16 of Kevin and Ian Maxwell's trial for alleged conspiracy to defraud.

Alun Jones QC, for Kevin Maxwell, reminded Mr Laister what happened during the hour-long meeting with Robert Maxwell on 6 August, 1991. He said Mr Maxwell slammed his fist on the boardroom table and accused the directors of plotting and forming a cabal against him. "Not in 40 years of business have I seen such a craven bunch of disloyal bastards," he bellowed.

But Mr Laister denied Mr Jones's suggestion that the directors meekly agreed with Mr Maxwell's order that no notes be taken at the meeting because they were frightened of him. Mr Laister said Mr Maxwell was prone to losing his temper and gave another example of a time when the publisher swore at a managing director and told him to "quit and get out".

Mr Laister said: "I found it wasn't very useful to get into a shouting argument. He's got a much louder voice."

He admitted he could not recall ever voting against Mr Maxwell at earlier meetings.

Mr Laister went on strongly to deny an accusation that he forged a document "to save his own skin". The allegation concerned a foreign exchange transaction in October 1991 in which $145m of MCC money was converted to pounds and distributed to different companies.

The court was told that some of the cash flowed back to MCC but more than pounds 56m went outside, and pounds 38m ended up in the hands of two private Maxwell companies.

Mr Jones drew Mr Laister's attention to a letter to Citibank authorising a transaction on which his signature had been deleted. Mr Jones put it to Mr Laister: "You have forged that document, after the event, by putting the Tippex on yourself to save your own skin, haven't you?"

Mr Laister replied: "Absolute rubbish. I couldn't possibly accept such an accusation. There is no basis for it, it's not true."

As part of a safeguard secured by the independent directors, all documents of this kind were subject to a final review by the finance director, Basil Brookes, before being counter signed. Mr Laister said he recalled initialling a number of papers before discovering that Mr Brookes had not completed his checks.

Kevin Maxwell, 36, Ian Maxwell, 39, and two former financial advisers, Larry Trachtenberg, 42, and Robert Bunn, 47, deny conspiracy to defraud the trustees and beneficiaries of the group's pension fund by misusing pounds 22m worth of shares to prop up the ailing Maxwell empire after its founder's mystery death at sea in November 1991.

Kevin denies a similar charge of conspiring with his father to misuse pounds 100m worth of sharesto pay the debts of private Maxwell companies.

The trial continues today.