Rupert Allason, the spy writer and former Conservative MP, was found guilty of contempt of court yesterday after being accused of hiding his assets during a hearing at which he was shown to be £1,175,000 in debt.
Mr Justice Neuberger warned the 50-year-old author that he could be heading for a lengthy jail sentence if he failed to provide truthful information within 18 days to back up his claims to the publisher Random House that he has no assets.
Allason was ordered to pay Random House £140,000 last year after falsely claiming to have ghosted a book by the "fifth man", the Cambridge spy John Cairncross, but all attempts to establish a true picture of his finances have failed.
During a two-day hearing at the High Court, during which the publisher asked for him to be jailed, Allason, the former MP for Torbay, was accused of dishonesty and of hiding his assets. On one occasion, Allason claimed he owned 100 per cent of his company, Westintel Ltd, but later said his shareholding was just 1 per cent.
During later evidence, he said he had not written a book in three years, but Random's legal team produced The Third Secret, which Allason said was "just out and a very good read".
Being caught out yet again, he was shown to have been receiving money from a family trust after he claimed his income from it had stopped.
It also emerged during the hearing that Allason drives a Porsche owned by a company called Westintel BVI in the British Virgin Islands, yet he claims the company is not his. The car, he says, came as part of a deal in which he sold off the rights to a board game called Molehunt. And one of his homes, in Newbury, Berkshire, is owned by a family trust through Polarpark Enterprises Inc, a Panamanian-registered company.
Mr Justice Neuberger said Allason was guilty of an "unjustifiable and serious" contempt of court for failing to provide details of his finances in response to an earlier order issued by Mr Justice Lloyd. The 18 days he had now been given, he said, represented Allason's "last chance" to avoid prison. The author was supposed to have produced information for Random House by 20 March this year, but an affidavit – which was incomplete and inaccurate – was not submitted until 11 April.
In it, Allason made no mention of the shares he owned in his companies Westintel Ltd and Westintel Research Ltd, of trust fund income the judge suspected he was receiving, royalties and income from the books he wrote under the name Nigel West, and details of a lump sum on which he had received more than £1,000 in interest.
For the publisher, Stephen Bates rejected Allason's claims that he did not have enough time to put the information together. In fact, he had carried out a similar exercise only weeks earlier in submitting an Individual Voluntary Arrangement, a legal mechanism designed to prevent his creditors – with claims of more than £1m – from petitioning to make him bankrupt.
The judge said Allason's submissions were "fanciful", "dishonest", "utterly ludicrous" and "offensive to the court". He said he suspected Westintel BVI was a company to which Allason was linked and added: "I have strong suspicions that Mr Allason has not come clean in more ways than I have mentioned to a substantial extent.
"The lateness and casualness with which Mr Allason failed to comply with the order, and the incomplete way ... amount to a contempt of court and make him liable to be put in prison.
"If he gives all the information [within 18 days] then that will be the end. But if Random House find Mr Allason has not been frank and there are other assets he fails to identify, then I can see no judge doing anything else but sending him to jail. In other words, this is his last chance."
The hearing will resume when Allason's time runs out.Reuse content