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Wednesday, December 23, 1998 Published at 17:16 GMT


UK Politics

Robinson: The ultimate champagne socialist

Coventry City: Geoffrey Robinson has invested in the club

Multi-millionaire Geoffrey Robinson bulging bank account always looked as if it could cause a few red faces within the Labour government, despite his political roots.

His resignation from the post of paymaster general hours after Peter Mandelson quit as trade secretary follows a long Tory campaign against him.

He had been censured twice by watchdogs for failing to declare interests in offshore trusts and was forced to apologise to MPs in the Commons.

The most recent row broke after it emerged he had given a secret £373,000 loan to Trade Secretary Peter Mandelson to enable him to buy a Notting Hill mansion.

Mr Robinson, who is married with two children, is one of the country's richest MPs, with a personal fortune estimated to be between £18m and £30m. He has homes in London's Park Lane, Cannes and Tuscany.

But he has long combined his business dealings with a political career, which now appears effectively over.

Mandelson
The MP for Coventry North West began his political journey as a Labour party researcher.

Mr Robinson, who has represented his Midlands seat since 1976, rose through the ranks of the motor industry to become chief executive of Jaguar Cars.

Complex financial arrangements

But the millionaire, who owns the ailing New Statesman magazine and premiership side Coventry City Football Club, came about his fortune largely through building up his engineering company TransTec into a global success.

The controversy over Mr Robinson since he became paymaster general began in November 1997 focused on his complex financial, business and tax arrangements.


[ image: Geoffrey Robinson: Began as a party researcher]
Geoffrey Robinson: Began as a party researcher
The background to the allegations repeatedly made against him focus on a number of his business interests.

In 1981, he founded TransTec, an engineering company of which his 7.2% stake is now worth more than £30m.

Meanwhile, politically he was given front bench jobs on industry and science while Labour were in opposition.

In the early 1990s the business began to look vulnerable, as it was very reliant on the struggling European car market but subsequent acquisitions and diversifications initiated by Mr Robinson, rejuvenated the business.

By 1987, he had also become a director of a publicly quoted industrial and property conglomerate chaired by the late disgraced tycoon Robert Maxwell.

In 1991, the MP helped negotiate a reverse takeover, effectively merging the company with TransTec Ltd. Mr Maxwell sold his 27% stake in the business back to the company months before his death.

Shortly afterwards, the merged company changed its name to TransTec plc.

Although Mr Robinson is still a substantial shareholder of TransTec he resigned from the board when Labour came to power.

Never hidden fortune

Mr Robinson claims he has never hidden his business interests and revealed he has a personal fortune of £18m earlier this year.

In a statement, Mr Robinson also said he was a discretionary beneficiary under a Guernsey trust established for his family by a late Belgian friend.

But the Committee on Standards and Privileges condemned Mr Robinson for failing to make a registration in the list of members' interests, following complaints from Shadow Chancellor Francis Maude.

However, Mr Robinson's one-minute statement to MPs only added to calls he should resign.

The criticism followed Stenbell Ltd - a company in which he had a shareholding - acquiring a rights issue of 9,805,550 shares in Trans Tec from him.

Stenbell then sold the issue to the Orion Trust, the trust of which Mr Robinson was a discretionary beneficiary.

The committee's report criticised the MP for not registering his interests in Stenbell and recommended that he make a personal statement of apology to the House.

But the one-minute act of public contrition only further incensed the opposition benches, who also pointed to Mr Robinson's poor attendance in the Commons.



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