The Mandelson Affair: Case Against Robinson - Millionaire businessman who just wanted to help

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The Independent Online
GEOFFREY ROBINSON gave up his hold on Treasury office after surviving months of speculation and controversy about his business background.

It was finally an act of generosity that brought him down, and Downing Street was quick to absolve the millionaire businessman from blame. "Geoffrey is not a leper," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said."He has been a Labour member of Parliament for a very long time and he is somebody who is very generous."

However, it was the continuing questioning of Mr Robinson's business links and his secret funding of Gordon Brown's private office in opposition that made his resignation inevitable.

Disclosures are still emerging of the undisclosed sums he gave to the Smith Political Economy Unit, created after the death of the party leader John Smith, to give support to Mr Brown as Shadow Chancellor before the 1997 general election.

Mr Robinson's penthouse in Park Lane, central London, has regularly been used by the Chancellor and his advisers, Ed Balls and Charlie Whelan, for planning meetings and watching football on television, with the support of room service from the Grosvenor Park hotel.

The "charges" against Mr Robinson include:

The Department of Trade and Industry inquiry into allegations of possible accounting offences by Hollis Industries plc, a Maxwell company of which Mr Robinson was chairman. The accounts showed the chairman receiving pounds 200,000 in remuneration which he denied ever receiving;

The Committee on Standards and Privileges which said, in a report in January, that his interest in the Orion Trust "would have been better registered" although he was cleared of breaching the rules of the House;

On18 November, the committee found he had broken the rules of the House by failing to register his share-holding in Stenbell Ltd, through which he paid staff salaries at the New Statesman. He was censured and forced to make a personal apology in the Commons;

And the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has been asked to investigate his failure to register his business relationship with Robert Maxwell between 1987 and 1991.

Born in Sheffield, the son of a furniture manufacturer, Mr Robinson was managing director of Jaguar Cars by the age of 33, before winning his seat for Coventry North West in 1976. He made his millions from TransTec, a Midlands company he founded specialising in the transfer of ideas from university to the shopfloor.

During his time at Jaguar, he met Joska Bourgeois, a Belgian millionairess who gave him the backing that enabled him to found TransTec. After her death aged 81, she left him another fortune, which he placed in an offshore trust.

His growing wealth made enemies in the Labour Party and he fought off a Bennite attempt to oust him from his seat. With the collapse of the left, the Blairites saw his value. He was appointed Paymaster-General in May, last year, to spearhead the drive to bring private finance into public schemes. He refused to draw his ministerial salary. "He was a bit naive, and like a fish out of water in politics," said a minister. "But he didn't draw a salary. He didn't need all this aggro. He just did it because he wanted to make contribution."

The Tories - stung by the "sleaze" allegations against them - scrutinised his business dealings and found a number of examples where he had failed to make proper or full disclosures to the House. They found he had offshore holdings worth an estimated pounds 30m.

The writing was on the wall for Mr Robinson when Mr Blair decided against using his sumptuous Tuscan villa last summer for his family holiday, having enjoyed its attractions the previous year. "It marked the card for Geoffrey," said a ministerial source. "He was very put out and puzzled but he recognised he was drawing too much flak and Blair was distancing himself."

The Prime Minister's instinct was to drop Mr Robinson from the Government in his July reshuffle and replace him with Geoff Hoon, the Lord Chancellor's spokesman in the Commons, but Mr Brown fought to keep Mr Robinson in his Treasury team.

The Chancellor and the multi-millionaire had become firm friends. He was appointed to the Treasury team to bring a business vitality to the Blair government.

Mr Robinson's business insight brought him some surprising allies within the Cabinet. One of his strongest supporters was John Prescott, the deputy Prime Minister, who privately found his knowledge of business invaluable in dealing with the private sector to finance public transport schemes.

"He came up with new ideas and if John came up with ideas, he would not reject them. He would say, `Let's talk about it', and find a way of making them work," said a Whitehall source.

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