Un Rendez-vous

2009/10/11

How to win friends and influence voters

Filed under: finance, politics — Tags: , , — simonlecoeur @ 20:09

MPs today began to challenge openly the authority of the independent auditor charged with investigating expenses abuses at Westminster amid claims that the civil servant’s inquiry had strayed beyond its remit.

John Mann, the MP who has led calls for a thorough overhaul of the allowances system, raised concern that Sir Thomas Legg’s audit of expenses had become too broad, and warned that this might trigger lawsuits that could drag on through the “entirety of the next parliament”.

The MP for Bassetlaw, who has been publishing his own expenses in full since 2004, warned that many MPs – faced with paying back sums of up to £200,000 – may “go to ground” rather than pay immediately, and then challenge the legality of the repayment demands.

In early July, Legg initially set out to examine cases where MPs used parliamentary expenses to improve their second homes in order to make a profit rather than just maintaining them, as rules allow. However, he has also looked at exploitation of loopholes which amounted to breaches in the spirit of the law, as well as the actual law.

Mann’s views were supported by Sir Stuart Bell, who sits on the ruling Commons members estimate committee (MEC). Bell yesterday suggested Sir Thomas may have “strayed outside his remit”.

The expenses scandal that dominated the last parliamentary term will kick off the new term tomorrow. Legg has been examining the expenses claims of all MPs over the last four years. Tomorrow morning he will send hundreds of letters to MPs detailing wrongdoing or requesting further evidence. He will send a separate email itemising whether or not the MP flouted the rules of the parliamentary housing allowances.

MPs will either be cleared, told to provide more information, or will be ordered to repay money. Disputes over Legg’s findings must be raised within three weeks to the MEC. When Legg has received all responses his team will publish a report of recommendations to parliament in December.

It is thought Legg has also uncovered more cases where MPs have used taxpayers’ money to pay off the capital element of mortgages instead of just the interest on the borrowing, as is allowed under the rules. His team is also said to have been particularly exercised by claims for gardening and cleaning. One source suggested he was to place a ceiling on claims of this sort; any MPs broaching that limit would have to repay the difference. This would include MPs whose expenses claims of this kind were approved by the fees office.

It is under these tight rules that the prime minister is likely to be asked to pay back some or all of his cleaning expenses. On Sunday, Downing Street said Gordon Brown would repay anything asked of him, adding that up to 500 of parliament’s 646 MPs would also be asked for more information.

Mann predicted legal challenges which could engulf the general election. “The Legg team have clearly got problems, because [MPs] don’t have the receipts for a lot of this stuff. Clearly, if someone has managed to get [a claim] signed off by the fees office then they have a case when asked to repay.

“There could be as many as 200 MPs who refuse to pay anything. If he is going to say to an MP, ‘You have to pay back £200,000’ and that MP is standing down, they are simply going to say ‘No way’. I think there’s a chance that a good number of MPs will not pay up – the repair of a moat may have been bad but it was approved by the fees office.”

–Defiant MPs challenge call to repay cash in expenses row

2009/09/28

The rich are different than you and me

Filed under: finance — Tags: , , , , , — simonlecoeur @ 17:51

The estranged wife of a property millionaire who claims his £400m fortune has evaporated called today for him to “hear the clang of the prison gates” behind him after he failed to comply with a court order to explain where his money has gone.

Michelle Young, 45, accused her husband Scot of feigning mental illness to avoid providing a detailed account of the disappearance of his nine-figure portfolio of stockbroker belt mansions and other assets, which he says has collapsed to such an extent that rather than being a Rolls Royce-driving magnate he is now penniless and being pursued by creditors for £27m.

Lawyers for Mr Young, 47, admitted before a judge in London’s High Court that he was still unable to provide documentation to back up his claim to be broke despite being told at a hearing in June this year that he faced a six-month jail term unless he could provide the accounts to prove his financial collapse.

The court heard that that the tycoon, who has been described as a “fixer” for Russian oligarchs and counts several British billionaires as close friends, had suffered mental health problems which resulted in a week-long hospital stay after he had tried to go through his papers to provide the evidence of his demise.

David Balcombe QC, for Mrs Young, said the mother-of-two was now facing eviction from her luxury home in Regent’s Park because her husband had defaulted on the £10,000-a-month rent, even though she suspects he actually owns the property. Mr Young has also stopped paying the £36,000-a-year school fees for their children Scarlet, 16, and 14-year-old Sasha, the court heard.

Prior to his claimed downfall, Mr Young had prospered from his impeccable network of contacts, supposedly including Bill Clinton, to become a multi-millionaire. He sold one of his collection of high-value homes to Boris Berezovsky, the exiled Russian plutocrat, for £19m on the Wentworth Park Estate in Egham, Surrey.

The British tycoon, who said he could only afford to be represented at yesterday’s hearing thanks to a £50,000 loan from the restaurateur Richard Caring, owner of The Ivy, also counts the entrepreneur Sir Tom Hunter and retailer Sir Philip Green among his close friends.

After meeting his wife in 1995, the couple settled down to a life of luxury, shuttling between their mansions in England and a yacht in Monaco. But after the marriage broke down in 2006, Mrs Young claims her husband’s wealth mysteriously vaporised within a matter of months.

Philip Marshall, for Mr Young, said he had apologised for his failings and promised to comply with the court order in the future but underlined he was sincere in his insistence that he was penniless. Adding that his client was “not wilfully in default” of the court, he said that the pursuit of his creditors meant that Mr Young was in reality worth “minus £27m”.

The case continues.

Tycoon seeks more time to explain missing millions

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