Maxwell Money Still Being Shuffled, Receiver Says
LONDON (AP) _ Wheeling and dealing with the money of companies once controlled by Robert Maxwell continues seven months after the publisher’s mysterious death at sea, a court-appointed receiver said on Thursday.
Peter Phillips said several million dollars had been moved through European banks in the past few weeks in an attempt to evade his grasp.
″Clearly the money has continued to move after Robert Maxwell’s death, just as it was alleged to have been moved before it,″ he said in an interview with British Broadcasting Corp. radio.
Phillips would not say who was shifting the money. Questions previously have been raised about whether his sons were involved in misusing company funds.
Maxwell, whose international media empire collapsed soon after he died last fall, used hundreds of millions of dollars from the pension funds of public companies he controlled to pay off debts and cover operating losses at his private firms.
Maxwell’s body was found on Nov. 5 floating in the Atlantic off the Canary Islands, and the Spanish coroner ruled he most likely died of natural causes after falling overboard. But skeptics questioned whether he was murdered or killed himself as his business holdings unraveled because of crushing debts.
Phillips said that in trying to unravel Maxwell’s financial dealings, he had asked Maxwell’s advisers and relatives what the financier owned. He said that ″putting it at its kindest, those I interviewed didn’t know about, certainly didn’t tell me about,″ a number of assets.
The Guardian newspaper said the unreported assets were worth about $7.3 million.
Phillips said further action in pursuing the money was stymied by Switzerland’s and Liechtenstein’s secretive banking laws. He urged the British government to use ″whatever channels it has to seek assistance.″ Britain’s social security secretary, Peter Lilley, said Monday that $640 million was missing from Maxwell company pension funds.
Lilley said banks holding some of those assets as collateral for Maxwell loans might feel a ″moral obligation″ to repay pensioners.
National Westminster Bank then asked the High Court to rule on ownership of shares in Teva Pharmaceuticals Industries taken from pension funds and used as collateral for a loan to a private Maxwell company. It was not known when the High Court would rule.
National Westminster holds about $55 million worth of shares in the Israeli drug company as collateral for a $27.3 million loan made to a private Maxwell company on Nov. 7, two days after Maxwell’s body was found.
Maxwell pensioners, from whose funds the shares were taken, and the accounting firm Arthur Andersen, as administrator for the Maxwell private companies, each claim ownership.
Neil Cooper, liquidator for the pension funds, said Thursday he was confident the court would rule in favor of the pensioners.
″We know where the shares came from, we have the benefit of having sight of the certificates,″ Cooper told BBC radio.
National Westminster said it would return the shares to the pension funds if the court ruled in its favor.
Cooper said up to $180 million in pension fund assets was held by banks.
British press reports said other institutions holding pension assets as collateral were Credit Suisse, Lehman Brothers and Banque Nationale de Paris.