Minister's offshore pounds 12m fund

Paymaster-General Robinson benefits from millions of shares in Guernsey tax-free trust
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The Independent Online
A member of Tony Blair's inner circle and a minister in Gordon Brown's Treasury team has a beneficial interest in a pounds 12.75m offshore trust - just the sort of secretive tax avoidance device the Government wants to outlaw.

In the week Mr Brown announced increased measures to fight tax avoidance, an investigation by the Independent on Sunday reveals that Geoffrey Robinson, the Paymaster General and host for the Blairs' summer holiday in Tuscany, is a discretionary beneficiary of a trust registered in Guernsey. News of the existence of this trust, beyond the reach of the Inland Revenue, is bound to embarrass Mr Blair, still reeling from criticism over the Bernie Ecclestone affair.

Despite calls by Labour figures for a clampdown on tax havens such as the Channel Islands, not least by Mr Brown who has said the will do all he can to close them down, Mr Robinson continues to be a beneficiary of his family trust in Guernsey.

Before becoming a minister, Mr Robinson, MP for Coventry North West, was chairman of TransTec, the stock market-listed Midlands-based engineering group he founded. He is reckoned to be the richest Labour MP, owning the New Statesman magazine and funding Coventry City FC, as well as maintaining a large holding in TransTec. He has homes in Tuscany, Cannes,Surrey and Park Lane.

Although he relinquished his TransTec chairmanship on being appointed Paymaster General, he remained a major shareholder. An announcement to the Stock Exchange in September this year by TransTec said that "Mr Geoffrey Robinson is now interested in a total of 30,405,545 shares ... Of these shares 12,755,550 are held by the family trust". The bulk of the shares, 17.65m, are held in a "blind trust" formed since he became a minister and in this country. But the family trust referred to in the announcement, Orion, is registered at a PO Box number in St Peter Port, Guernsey. With TransTec shares currently trading at about pounds 1, the Guernsey trust's stake is valued at pounds 12.75m.

It is understood to have been set up for Mr Robinson and his family by a friend, Joska Bourgeois, a Belgian woman who made a fortune importing Jaguar cars into her native country. Mr Robinson met her when he was head of British Leyland's Italian subsidiary. Mme Bourgeois, who died in 1994, backed him after he left BL and set up on his own. He has been described as her "closest financial adviser, executor of her will and ... heir".

Tax experts agreed there could be no other reason for establishing an offshore trust than to keep its assets beyond the reach of the Inland Revenue.

When the Independent on Sunday contacted Mr Robinson, he insisted on only talking to the editor, Rosie Boycott. He told her"all my beneficial interests have been put in a blind trust". Ms Boycott asked if that meant all his shares and he said "no, that's 17 million in a blind trust".

Mr Robinson accepts that Orion is based in Guernsey because it is a tax haven. He stresses it was set up by Mme Bourgeois, not himself. Last night he issued a statement insisting that the arrangement involved no UK tax avoidance.

Additional reporting by Alex Clarke