Robinson's lawyers accused of lying by Tory ex-minister

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The Independent Online
City solicitors acting for Geoffrey Robinson, the Treasury minister censured by a Commons committee for failing to register his interest in an offshore trust, were yesterday accused of lying. Anthony Bevins, Political Editor, reports on the continuing row.

Tony Blair yesterday condemned the Tories for mounting a "crude attempt to smear" Mr Robinson, the Paymaster General, with questions about a possible Inland Revenue investigation into his affairs.

The Prime Minister's spokesman indicated that there was no question of Mr Robinson being sacked, or shuffled into another less sensitive ministerial post.

But a concerted Tory onslaught against Mr Robinson, following Tuesday's critical report from the all-party Committee on Standards and Conduct, casts strong doubt on Mr Robinson's position.

The defamatory charge against Mr Robinson's solicitors was delivered before and during a Commons debate, opened by David Maclean, a former Tory Home Office minister.

He laid charge after charge at Mr Robinson's door over his relationship with the pounds 12.75m Guernsey-based Orion Trust, and said that a letter issued by his solicitors, Titmuss Sainer and Dechert, to the Observer last month, saying that Mr Robinson neither controlled or influenced the Orion Trust, had subsequently been contradicted in interviews by the minister

On the basis that Mr Robinson was an honourable man, Mr Maclean said: "I can only conclude that his solicitors... have the same psychological flaw as the Prime Minister sees in his Chancellor, and that they, his solicitors, lied and lied and lied again in their letter of 8 December when they said that the Orion trustees did not have their decisions influenced by the Paymaster."

That statement, made in the chamber, is protected from an action for defamation by parliamentary privilege.

But before the debate had started, Conservative Central Office issued a fax in the name of David Heathcoat Amory, a frontbench spokesman, who said: "His solicitor has, on his behalf, issued a misleading and indeed untruthful statement." That fax has no privileged protection, and leaves the party and the MP open to libel action. A spokeswoman for Titmuss told The Independent: "We stand by the letter that we issued."

Mr Maclean told the House: "The Paymaster has operated the rules cleverly and well. Indeed, he is a highly successful and clever businessman. He is the only man in history to buy a company from Robert Maxwell and find that he actually has more assets in it than liabilities."

As for the Orion Trust, he said: "It is a classic case of the use of intermediate companies and offshore trusts to avoid tax on a massive scale - quite legally. His dealings have been designed to persuade the Inland Revenue that he was acting at arm's length."