Firm sucked into row over Paymaster General's business affairs. John Stokdyk reports.
PricewaterhouseCoopers has become embroiled in the political controversy surrounding Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson, who is facing resignation calls and potential criminal charges as a result of his role as a director of Hollis Industries up to 1990.
An audit of Hollis Industries for the period ending 30 June 1990 by Coopers & Lybrand – now part of PricewaterhouseCoopers – provided Conservative MP David Heathcoat- Amory with ammunition to detail a string of alleged company law violations by Robinson. The Tory MP sent a dossier to trade and industry secretary Peter Mandelson on Monday and called for the matter to be referred to an independent prosecutor.
PwC, however, challenged the allegation that Robinson and fellow Hollis directors approved false accounts. A provision of #200,000 for Robinson’s remuneration – which he denied receiving – formed the basis of the allegation, and implied the Coopers audit had failed to pick up the anomaly.
However, a PwC spokesman said the #200,000 was included in the accounts at management’s instructions.
The Commons committee on standards and privileges accepted Robinson’s explanation that the payment was never made, the spokesman added. ‘In normal circumstances, the provision would be reversed in accounts for the subsequent period, but Hollis went into receivership.’
Arthur Andersen was appointed administrator for Hollis Industries when it collapsed in 1991 after being acquired by Robert Maxwell’s Pergamon Group. In June, Andersens confirmed Robinson’s claim that he never received the payment.
Coopers’ report on the 1990 Hollis accounts concluded proper accounting records were not kept. As a result, the auditors wrote, ‘we have been unable to obtain all the information and explanations we considered necessary for the purpose of our audit’.
Heathcoat-Amory cited the qualification as proof that as chairman of Hollis Industries, Robinson breached the 1985 Companies Act. The Tory MP also said Hollis Industries failed to register his resignation ‘on or around 11 December 1991’, an offence under the Companies Act.
The DTI confirmed: ‘We do have the dossier, but would not be able to discuss the allegations. Whether it provides the basis for disqualification would ultimately be a matter for the courts to decide.’