Thirty years after the DTI first reported on Pergamon Press, fingers are being pointed at Robert Maxwell’s son Kevin, at the auditors Coopers & Lybrand Deloitte (as was), at the merchant bank Samuel Montagu, at lawyers, stockbrokers, bankers – the whole City paraphernalia that gave Maxwell the cloak of respectability – and the finance – to perpetrate his crimes.
In this respect, Kevin Maxwell is quite right when he says that his father “didn’t operate in a vacuum”: the collusion or acquiescence of many others was required (though we certainly don’t claim, as he does, that the DTI inspectors were wrong therefore to say that his own behaviour was “inexcusable”).
In this issue we examine what the DTI had to say about the role played by some of Maxwell’s FDs. It’s fascinating stuff – but there is one danger about the Maxwell affair: the demonisation of Maxwell to the extent that people believe such a thing can’t happen again. Auditors have already told us that Maxwell-type shenanigans are happening. Not on the same scale, admittedly, but we have commented on the falsification of accounting records to create the illusion of a healthy company many times.
There are probably hundreds of FDs reading this month’s cover story for whom certain elements have an all-too-familiar resonance: the chief executive’s glib excuses; the incomplete – or back-dated – paperwork; the assurances that everything is fine because the bankers/auditors/lawyers/non-executive directors are happy; the promises that the proper funds will be delivered in good time; the temptation of milking a healthy subsidiary to feed a dubious parent; the brow-beating and intimidation, accompanied by seemingly well-intentioned exhortations such as “I’m just trying to keep this company afloat!”
For any such FDs, there must be the gut-wrenching feeling that one has perhaps colluded in – or chosen to not look for – impropriety, but that it is too late to be a whistle blower. Well, it isn’t. Take Mae West’s advice: just put your lips together and blow.
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