The Mail on Sunday
£52m fraud probe boss: I’m innocent
FINANCIER SAYS HE IS READY TO RETURN TO BRITAIN FOR TALKS WITH SFO
THE man connected to one of Britain’s biggest pension fund fraud investigations has vowed to return from Australia to face questioning and clear his name.
British-born Tony Morris, who last week was revealed to be living in a mansion north of Sydney, was implicated in an investigation into the whereabouts of £52 million from pension trustee firm GP Noble Trustees.
The Nottingham-based company, which managed the assets of 29 pension schemes, had been bought in 2006 by an advisory firm set up by Morris years earlier.
It was suspended from trading in August 2008 after the pensions regulator and Serious Fraud Office intervened amid concerns about ‘unauthorised’ investment of the funds.
In January last year, a High Court judge ruled there was evidence to suggest that money from the firm had been paid into ‘Mr Morris’s pocket’. However, Morris has never been charged and claims not to have been questioned by police.
Now, just days after former colleagues Graham Pitcher and Gary Cordell were charged with conspiracy to defraud beneficiaries of nine of the 29 pension schemes, Morris has promised to return to Britain imminently.
Speaking to Financial Mail from Australia in his first interview with a British newspaper, Morris said: ‘I have asked my lawyers to make contact direct with the Serious Fraud Office and we are just establishing whether or not they want to see us.
‘I am getting ready and organised for a trip over to the UK so I can sit in front of these people. If I am asked for an interview with the police I will come back immediately, without hesitation. I want this matter cleared up.’
He claimed that a crucial report commissioned by Independent Trustee Services, the firm appointed to replace GP Noble, and compiled by accountancy giant PricewaterhouseCoopers in 2008, proved his innocence but had been suppressed.
Morris said: ‘In that report it verifies that all bar a few thousand pounds was accounted for. That report said this is a victimless crime in respect of pensioners losing any entitlement to money. Why is the PwC report being withheld from people who can make a more informed decision about this? There is no pensions black hole. It is lunacy.’
He said all investments made by the firm had been in ‘appropriate, legal, recognised and authorised structures’ and ‘made under the scrutiny and protocol’ of a regulated international law firm.
‘The investments were never missing, the money that was transferred to the court was transferred from lawyers, not from individuals, and it has all been accounted for,’ he said.
PwC confirmed that it had done work for ITS, but would not disclose details, claiming client confidentiality.
Morris said: ‘It should be in the public domain because it is part of the disclosure documents of ITS. If they haven’t submitted it as part of their evidence, they are withholding material information.’
Morris, who quit as head of independent financial adviser The Money Portal in 2005 after being disqualified as a director for ten years over a separate matter, also dismissed speculation that he left Britain as a result of alleged events within GP Noble, saying he had moved to Australia for personal reasons.
‘All of my plans and my move were well in advance of this matter,’ he said. ‘It was not that I emigrated to Australia because there is a black hole in a pension fund – there is no black hole.
‘I met my Australian wife and started my family well before this sorry saga ever began.’ He added that he had been visiting Australia for the past 12 years.
Morris claimed to have been hindered in setting up a proper defence because of a financial restraint imposed on him. ‘We are not allowed any money to be able to defend ourselves because they have frozen everybody’s assets,’ he said. ‘Everything I earn has to be disclosed and then is normally restrained.’
Morris said he had been making ends meet ‘writing business plans’ and doing ‘assessments for work’.
However, he has become wellknown by locals for his James Bond lifestyle at Whale Beach, close to where the TV series Home And Away is filmed and the residence of film stars, media moguls and bankers.
Locals say they have seen him driving two Aston Martins and he is believed to have the use of a yacht as well as the cliff-top mansion with its swimming pool.
Morris claimed that the prosecution in Britain had run up legal costs of £14 million – a claim ITS denies.
A spokesman at ITS declined to say how much its legal costs were, but said it was ‘not in that ball park’.
Morris said the allegations had been taking their toll. He said he was ‘not confident of anything’ and feeling ‘tired’ and ‘worried’.
‘But what I don’t want to do is sit here with people saying I am hiding from the authorities,’ he said.
Sources claim that the Australian Federal Police have been collecting information on Morris’s assets for about six months in collaboration with the authorities in Britain. A spokesman for the Australian Federal Police declined to comment.
The nine affected schemes are believed to cover about 2,200 people. A spokesman for ITS said members were receiving their benefits from either the taxpayer-funded Financial Assistance Scheme or the Pension Protection Fund. He confirmed that the majority of the £52 million had been paid back to the court.