Commentary (Sunday Times)

MT: "Maxwell tried to get Thatcher to bail him out" (1990 MT meeting with Robert Maxwell)

Document type: Press
Source: Sunday Times , 29 Jan 2006
Journalist: Maurice Chittenden
Editorial comments:
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: 400 words
Themes: Foreign policy (USSR & successor states), Labour Party & socialism

Maxwell tried to get Thatcher to bail him out

by Maurice Chittenden

THE media baron and fraudster Robert Maxwell tried to get Margaret Thatcher and her Conservative government to back him in a barter deal with the Soviet Union worth up to $20 billion (£11.2 billion).

Maxwell talked his way into meeting her at 10 Downing Street in 1990, the year before his death, to reveal details of the scheme.

He claimed to be a confidant of Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet president, and to be advising him on a planned exchange in which the Russians would provide Ilyushin passenger jets, chemicals and coal in return for credit to buy food and supplies.

Maxwell’s percentage as fixer could have given him enough money to stay afloat and prevented his £450m raid on the Mirror Group Newspapers pension fund ever coming to light.

But the Tories saw through his claims and Thatcher sent him away without any commitment. Thatcher even developed her own way of deflating Maxwell by saying he looked ill whenever they met.

Maxwell’s proposed deal is revealed in Cabinet Office papers released to The Sunday Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

At the time Maxwell perpetuated an image of one of Britain’s richest men with a fortune of £1.1 billion, but his debts were almost twice that and he survived by moving money around his companies, “borrowing” from the pension fund and dreaming up new schemes.

In a note to Thatcher, her private secretary Charles Powell, now Lord Powell, asked if he should send someone to see Maxwell to get the details of the scheme or invite him to Downing Street. A handwritten reply on the same note in Thatcher’s writing says: “The ‘Prince’ wants to be seen here! MT.”

Powell said last week: “Margaret Thatcher rather reluctantly saw him, but she had a marvellous technique. He would come and sit down and she would look at him and say, ‘How are you?’

“He would say, ‘Very well.’ She would say, ‘You don’t really look too good.’ He would feel anxious and start to sweat. ‘Are you sure your wife is looking after you?’ she would say.

“By now he would be reaching for his handkerchief and dabbing his brow and wishing he had never come in.”