Sunday, July 5, 2009
The United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office is to launch an investigation into the collapse of car manufacturer MG Rover. The move follows the conclusion of a four-year enquiry started immediately after the firm became insolvent.
The group of four who owned MG Rover — John Towers, Nick Stephenson, Peter Beale and John Edwards — have been accused of asset stripping. The quartet, known as the Phoenix Four, paid a symbolic £10 (approximately €15) for Rover in 2000. At that time the company received an interest-free loan from former owner BMW for £427 million (approximately €700 million) and came with a large amount of unsold stock.
Between then and Rover’s April 2005 bankruptcy, by which time there were unpaid debts of £1 billion (approximately €1.5 billion), the Phoenix Four had removed an estimated £40 million worth of assets including pensions and salaries. An enquiry was launched by ministers that was expected to take a year, but the final report was not delivered to business secretary Lord Mandelson until three weeks ago.
The government used taxpayer’s money to fund a £6 million loan to MG Rover and attempted to negotiate a deal with a Chinese company, but these efforts failed. MG Rover’s collapse caused the loss of an estimated 15,000 jobs, including with various suppliers. A former MG Rover factory does still build a small number of MG sports cars in Longbridge by Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation, who bought most of the designs.
The Phoenix Four released a statement criticising the criminal investigation. “There has never been any suggestion of improper conduct by the directors and this was confirmed in a report by the administrators PWC six months after they took over the running of the company. Four years on, any suggestion [of] another further investigation is frankly ridiculous and smacks of kicking this issue into the long grass. If the government has been so concerned to get to the heart of the matter why has it flatly refused more than 30 requests under the Freedom of Information Act which would have revealed correspondence and documents the directors believe would have shed some light on the government’s role in the affair?”