Business secretary hits out at so-called Phoenix Four
12 August 2009

A long-awaited report on the demise of MG Rover will raise questions over the right of the so-called Phoenix Four to be company directors, according to Lord Mandelson.

The report by independent inspectors, which took four years and cost £16 million of tax payer's money, will be published on 11 September after the Serious Fraud Office ruled out a criminal investigation into the affair yesterday.

The government has been accused of trying to delay the report after claims that it will show how it spent £6m trying to prop up the company to protect marginal constituencies around Birmingham in the run-up to the 2005 election.

MG Rover collapsed in April 2005 with the loss of more than 6000 jobs after the group of businessmen, now known as the Phoenix Four, bought the car maker from BMW for £10 in May 2000.

The four executives in charge - John Towers, Nick Stephenson, Peter Beale and John Edwards - came in for criticism when it was revealed they had taken out an estimated £40 million in pay and pensions in the five years they controlled the firm.

A spokesman for the four former directors told The Times newspaper there had been "absolutely no basis for a criminal investigation as the question of fraud had never been raised at any point".

"The directors have very little faith in a process that has seen £16 million of taxpayers’ money wasted on an inquiry that was originally defined, funded and then guided by the very Government department that was heavily implicated in the collapse of MG Rover.

"At every turn the Government has tried to avoid accounting for its own role in this affair — especially how the £100 million Government bridging loan that could have saved the company was withdrawn at the last minute in 2005."

He said the directors doubted whether the final report would be balanced and objective.

Lord Mandelson said: "It was important to have clarity on whether or not this was a case that the SFO should be investigating. The workers who lost their jobs and the creditors who were owed nearly £1.3 billion by the collapse deserved no less.

"They have waited a long time to see the findings of the report and the way is now clear for us to publish."

Mandelson also accused the Phoenix Four of "rather a lot of buck passing" and said the report would raise questions about their suitability as company directors.

"I think what people will be asking themselves in the light of this report is whether they, as individuals, are fit to conduct themselves as directors of companies in the future."

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