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Wednesday, 26 January, 2000, 18:28 GMT
Q&A: Geoffrey Robinson and TransTec

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Geoffrey Robinson, Former Paymaster General in Tony Blair's government, faces a welter of allegations which could embarrass the prime minister. BBC Political Correspondent John Kampfner explains the TransTec affair.

What is TransTec and how did it go bust?

It was an engineering company founded by Geoffrey Robinson in 1981. It got into difficulties in the 1980s, and in 1991 he negotiated a reverse take-over with one of the companies owned by the late Robert Maxwell.

TransTec went into receivership on 24 December, 1999. This followed a compensation claim by the Ford motor company of 11m ($18m) for unpaid components.

What was Geoffrey Robinson's role in the company?

He was non-executive chairman, until resigning at the last general election, May 1997. He was appointed paymaster general straight after. He's remained a big shareholder in TransTec.

What are the allegations about TransTec?

The main questions are the extent to which Mr Robinson was aware of the Ford claims; the extent to which he was aware of improper accounts being filed; and whether TransTec improperly claimed and used regional grants from the Department of Trade and Industry. Mr Robinson says all the accusations are false.

Is the DTI inquiry only looking into TransTec or other Robinson interests?

The remit of the inquiry seems to have been broadened to include how the company was founded, and also the dealings of its many subsidiaries. In a parliamentary answer on Tuesday Trade Secretary Stephen Byers revealed that several TransTec firms had received a total of 1.3m worth of grants over the past decades. These will also be looked at.

Why is Geoffrey Robinson still important despite having left government?

Throughout the 1990s he was at the heart of the "New Labour" inner circle. He helped fund the office of Gordon Brown, the then shadow chancellor; he twice gave over his villa in Tuscany to Tony Blair and his family; and he, famously, provided Peter Mandelson with a secret 373,000 loan to buy his Notting Hill house. Mandelson resigned after failing to disclosing the loan, but 10 months was brought back to the cabinet.

Is Tony Blair trying to distance himself from Geoffrey Robinson?

He's not as such, but there's certainly considerable suspicion and anxiety in Downing Street about what happens next. Mr Robinson has confirmed that he does intend to have his memoirs published, which could provide embarrassing details about any of the above sagas.

How potentially embarrassing is this affair for the Blair government?

It's already embarrassing. The whole Robinson affair has already tarnished Labour with some of the sleaze attached to the former Tory government.

If the inquiry concludes that Mr Robinson has acted either illegally or improperly, or incompetently, and suggests either prosecution or that he be disqualified as a director, it would be enormously damaging. If, however, he's exonerated, Labour would accuse his detractors of a malicious witchhunt.

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See also:
20 Jan 00 |  Business
Transtec inquiry begins
23 Jan 00 |  Business
Robinson faces fraud inquiry
26 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Robinson: 'I'm blameless'
25 Jan 00 |  UK Politics
Transtec inquiry examines grants

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