PracticePeople In Practice‘Put ethics before commerce’.

'Put ethics before commerce'.

The Department of Trade and Industry's report on the Maxwell affair, which focuses specifically on the flotation of Mirror Group Newspapers, but comments on much wider issues, made eight key recommendations.

There have been many developments in legislation and regulation since the inspectors were appointed in 1992, but the report states important matters still need to be addressed.

– Build on the work carried out by the Occupational Pensions Regulatory Authority to provide more assistance for pension trustees.

– Provide a statement of guidance on the role and duties of advisers on a flotation.

– Build on changes made by Financial Services Authority including sanctions on companies that fail to report fraud.

– Address regulation of security markets, providing more effective control over firms that operate on a transnational basis.

– Provide more detailed guidance on the audit of business ’empires’.

– Address issues of auditor independence and discourage auditing firms from acting as reporting accountants on flotations of client companies.

– Make non-execs more accountable, separate roles of chairman and chief executive and provide additional guidance for directors.

– Avoid an ‘expectations gap’ by making the public aware that regulation cannot entirely eliminate fraud, malpractice or manipulation of the markets.

But above all, the DTI report says the most important lesson is that high ethical and professional standards must always be put before commercial advantage.

What was said about the other advisors …

Robert Bunn:

The former finance director of Maxwell’s private companies was seen by the inspectors as not ‘an originator of abuses,’ although ‘he gave substantial assistance to Robert Maxwell and bears a significant responsibility’.

Michael Stoney:

Expelled from the ICAEW in 1998, Stoney was the deputy FD of the Mirror Group and failed to inform the Mirror Group board of certain transactions carried out with the private side of Maxwell’s empire.

Goldman Sachs:

The international investment bank acted as Maxwell’s broker on a number of share transactions, and retired partner Eric Sheinberg was singled out by the inspectors for particular criticism. It was through share dealing that Maxwell was able to manipulate the Mirror Group Newspapers’ share price. The report says: ‘Goldman Sachs were the investment bank with whom Robert Maxwell principally dealt when purchasing Maxwell Communication Corporation and Mirror Group shares and bear a substantial responsibility in respect of the manipulation that occurred in the market.’ Goldman, whose name is peppered throughout the report said: ‘We deeply regret this and, with the benefit of hindsight and with the information now available to us, would have acted differently.’

Samuel Montagu:

Now part of HSBC, Samuel Montagu was the merchant bank that masterminded the float of MGN. According to the report, the bank accepted, with hindsight, that MGN, run and controlled by Maxwell, was unsuitable for listing.

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