Robinson loses millions but will stay on as MP

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The Independent Online
GEOFFREY ROBINSON, the former paymaster general, has told his constituency he plans to remain as an MP despite his business and political troubles.

There had been speculation that the MP, whose engineering company suspended trading in its shares on Christmas Eve, might retire from public life. But last night Margaret Lancaster, agent for the Coventry North West MP, said he had given an undertaking to stand for the seat again: "He made a commitment to stand at the next election and it was carried overwhelmingly. We love him here - he is a lovely man."

Mrs Lancaster said she had not spoken to the MP since the pre-Christmas announcement by his TransTec company, and that he was abroad at the moment: "I am planning to see him in the new year and I expect he will keep me informed about it then even though it isn't normal constituency business." She said she had not been aware of the company's most recent troubles before the announcement.

TransTec, which completed a pounds 70m refinancing deal with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) in October, suspended trading after it emerged that a pounds 11.2m claim from a customer had not been fully reflected in its accounts. In a statement to the stock market, TransTec - in which Mr Robinson owns about 30 million shares - said its chief executive, Richard Carr, and Bill Jeffrey, a director, had resigned over the matter.

The company's shares were suspended at 6.5p, making Mr Robinson's 16 per cent stake worth pounds 1.9m. In 1996, the stake was valued at pounds 20m, and in October it was valued at pounds 5.3m.

Mr Carr and Mr Jeffrey had told the TransTec board the claim by the unnamed customer arose before 1998 but had not been included in the group's accounts. In 1998, the company paid more than pounds 7.5m of the claim, with more than pounds 5m charged to the group's profit and loss account and about pounds 2m recorded as "tooling expenditure". However, the pounds 3.7m balance had still not been recorded in the accounts and settlement terms were still being discussed with the customer. The board said it was investigating the claim with the help of PricewaterhouseCoopers to determine whether any revision to prior-year accounts was necessary. There were reports yesterday that although details of a pounds 70m mortgage arrangement were filed at Companies House in October, the bank was now determined to retrieve its money. A spokeswoman for HSBC said it had no comment.

Mr Robinson, who became an MP in 1976 and Paymaster General in 1997, resigned last Christmas after the disclosure that he lent Peter Mandelson pounds 373,000 to buy a house. Apart from his controlling interest in TransTec, he is also personally responsible for keeping afloat the New Statesman magazine, which he owns. He recently sold one of his two Lutyens mansions for pounds 4m. In 1996, he said he owned property worth around pounds 10m, including the two mansions, a flat in Cannes and an estate in Italy. Although it is not clear how much Mr Robinson is now worth, it is known that he inherited pounds 12.75m from a Belgian entrepreneur called Joska Bourgeois and a further substantial sum from a family business, a furniture company called William Barrett. Part of this fortune is held in a Guernsey-based offshore trust.

Mr Robinson cut his business teeth in posts such as chief executive of Jaguar and as managing director of Leyland Innocenti during the early Seventies, and started Transfer Technology after becoming an MP in 1976. The company aimed to harness technology devised by academics to produce business successes, but only took off after a "reverse take-over" in 1990 by Central and Sheerwood, an industrial and property conglomerate formerly chaired by the late Robert Maxwell. Mr Maxwell effectively absorbed Transfer Technology into Central and Sheerwood, paying pounds 5.5m for the deal, then changed the name of the company to TransTec.

The company continues to own a number of engineering firms which were formerly owned by Mr Maxwell. It has recently sold some of its subsidiaries, including Lock Inspection Systems and an American firm called Roll Center which were the subject of parliamentary inquiries into whether Mr Robinson had properly registered his interests in them.

Last week the Department of Trade and Industry said it had completed an inquiry into alleged accounting irregularities by Hollis Industries, another Maxwell engineering firm, chaired by Mr Robinson, and had decided to take no further action.