Shadow of Guinness curse looms again

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The Independent Online
The curse of the House of Guinness may be about to strike again. On the eve of publication of a long-awaited history of the Distillers' scandal by Lord Moyne, otherwise known as Jonathan Guinness of the Irish beverages dynasty, an investment company which he controls has been suspended by the Swedish stock exchange.

The Serious Fraud Office is now set to probe the affairs of Trustor, the Swedish based investment company in which the Tory peer acquired a controlling stake last June.

An investigation by the Fraud Intelligence Branch of the Swedish police in Stockholm has already begun into the alleged disappearance of pounds 49m from the company's assets. The Swedish authorities have asked the SFO to establish whether funds were transferred from Sweden to an account in London, and if so to find where the money has gone since.

Sources at the SFO said that it would be able to deploy its special powers under section two of the Criminal Justice Act to try and follow the movement of the money. As a result of the "serious allegations", the Swedish stock exchange suspended trading in Trustor shares.

The investigation could not be worse timed for Lord Moyne (left) with the imminent publication of Requiem for a Family Business, his insider's account of the Distillers-Guinness takeover battle in the 1980s.

In the book, Lord Moyne, 67, a non-executive of the Guinness drinks group from 1961 to 1988, is set to reopen some old wounds.

He is unlikely, however, to criticise too strongly the actions of disgraced former Guinness chairman Ernest Saunders, who is still on friendly terms with the peer and was allowed to see a draft manuscript of the book.

Lord Moyne is the eldest son of Lady Diana Mitford and the stepson of the British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley.

A former chairman of the Monday Club, the right-wing pressure group, his previous publications include Shoe: The Odyssey of a Sixties Survivor.

Lord Moyne's Scandinavian business ambitions have not been confined to Sweden. In July, he tried unsuccessfully to gain control of the Finnish sports company, Amer, which owns the famous Wilson brand.

He had been virtually unknown in the region until this summer when he spent around pounds 20m to obtain a 52 per cent share of Trustor.

Despite being normally outspoken, he is declining to comment on the Swedish investigation. His publisher said yesterday that he was out of the country but expected to return to Britain today. The Old Etonian admits he lacks the business acumen of some of his Guinness forefathers - he once sold a Gainsborough portrait because he was "pushed" for cash - and has an interesting view on why the Distillers' scandal was allowed to happen. "The City got too lax. Distillers thought we were still gentlemen. Unfortunately, they had another think coming," he said in August.

No doubt, he will be hoping that the authorities will be suitably rigorous in attempting to discover what happened to the Trustor millions.