When did all these allegations of misconduct start?In February 1999, the then Assistant General Secretary John Chowcat made a number of allegations about financial misconduct by the General Secretary Roger Lyons. His allegations were based on information gathered by Marcia Solomon, then personal assistant to Nelson Mendes, the Head of Finance.
What were the allegations?Chowcat made five sets of allegations against Lyons. One concerned unauthorised loans, three involved credit card and expenses claims fiddles, and one was about a fraud of branch funds. Chowcat also alleged that head of finance Nelson Mendes fiddled his expenses.
Have any of the allegations been proven?Yes. Lyons did obtain unauthorised loans. A number of other fulltime officials have also received unauthorised loans. The union's accountants carried out a series of forensic tests on Lyon's £10,000 expense claims in 1997/8. They found that Lyons consistently claimed more in expenses than cash that he had withdrawn from his bank account. It was established that Mendes thieved tens of thousands of pounds from the union with false expense claims. Mendes approved Lyons' expenses and loans.
What about the fraud of branch funds?No documentary evidence has been found to sustain this allegation. Solomon has given an explanation on oath of how the evidence was lost in the post. An investigation into the allegation is currently being carried out by HW Fisher & Co, the union's accountants, with the involvement of the Certification Officer. The Guardian newspaper is also carrying out its own investigation on this and other issues.
What about the expenses and credit card fiddling?The expenditure alleged by Chowcat covered the purchase of material and equipment by Lyons for use at home, expenses claims for meetings, and the consumption of food, drink and petrol. It included a video recorder, radios, home internet connection, briefcase, takeaways after meetings at which food was provided and petrol bills while on holiday in France. Meetings with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, who regularly supply tea and coffee and even the odd biscuit and sandwich, also led to sustenance claims from Mr Lyons.
Isn't this all rather trivial?The sums involved amounted to many thousand pounds over a single year. The affair demonstrates a breakdown in accountability at the top of the union. The biggest scandal is the amount of members money Lyons has spent in payoffs, legal fees and settlements trying to cover it up. Almost certainly in excess of £1 million.
What happened after Chowcat made his allegations?Chowcat made his report to the then MSF President Dave Cooke. Cooke called in two senior NEC members, John Gardner and Bob Braddock, to carry out an investigation. In turn, they brought in HW Fisher & Co. to investigate the allegations. An internal inquiry was conducted to find out how Chowcat got hold of the information. The Certification Officer became involved at the instigation of some MSF members. A major effort was devoted to stopping members finding out what was going on.
Didn't the investigation clear Lyons and Mendes?No. The investigation uncovered the unauthorised loans and later, Mendes's theft. The Fisher investigator stated that the union would have to take a view on Lyons' expenditure in restaurants and off-licences. However, the Fisher investigator and the Certification Officer went to some lengths to exculpate Lyons and Mendes. The Certification Officer has since been replaced.
Was there any fiddling?A proportion of Lyons' expenditure is completely unjustifiable. For example, he brought his briefcase on the union. The union buys his morning newspaper delivered to his home. He frequently went to restaurants and take-aways on his way home from his office in the evening, spending anything up to £60. There are many other questionable items, e.g. radios and a video recorder for home use. Mendes was a crook.
What happened to Chowcat?Chowcat was sent home, then suspended, then recommended for the sack, then paid off in a secret settlement now revealed to be nearly £1/2 million.
What happened to Solomon?Solomon went off sick, was then sacked and then took her case to an Employment Tribunal and won £200,000.
What happened to Mendes?Mendes stayed at work after the Chowcat allegations. He went off sick after the Solomon ET case and is not expected to return to MSF.
What happened to Lyons?Nothing. He continued to work "normally" and to enjoy his salary of over £100,000 p.a.
What happened at the Solomon ET hearing?The MSF attempt to prove that Solomon was fairly dismissed collapsed. There was a settlement involving a payment of £140 000 by MSF to Solomon. Both sides maintained their positions on the allegations.
How did The Guardian get involved?The Guardian picked up on stories already in the media. So far the paper has published about 20 stories and letters.
How much has this cost the union?No precise figures are available but over £700 000 has been spent in legal fees and pay-offs, etc. This total waste of MSF resources is the true scandal.
What is happening now?The NEC has instigated a second investigation, also being conducted by HW Fisher & Co but with somewhat closer supervision by the Certification Officer. A report is due in late 2000/early 2001.
Is there more to come out?Another ET case is scheduled to begin on 26 January 2001 involving Bryan Keegan, Lyons' former chauffeur. He has made further allegations in a sworn statement. Lyons has contradicted these. The Guardian has a great deal more information which it may publish.
Has this affair damaged the union?Undoubtedly. But don't shoot the messengers. Blame the perpetrators and the people who tried to cover it up.
Will the scandal die away?No.