Press Report : MG Rover’s aide in China perplexed by focus on sex

Jonathan Guthrie, Financial Times, 25th September, 2009

Dr. Qu Li says she is being “stoned to death” twice over. First, a report on MG Rover revealed that the car company paid her £1.7m under a contract authorised by a Director who was also briefly her lover. Second, the tabloid media seized on the story, its interest intensified by Dr. Li’s involvement in bidding for assets of LDV, the failed van maker.

“I feel that I was stoned to death for three years by the Government Inspectors,” says the well-groomed woman in pearls and a pink suit in her first newspaper interview. “Now I am being stoned to death again by the press.” She has been having nightmares and is considering quitting the UK, she says.

One question looms large in the mind of Dr. Li following the publication of the report on the 2005 collapse of the carmaker: would her involvement with MG Rover have received such scrutiny had she been a man? The 840-page account of how MG Rover went under with 6,000 job losses is mostly heavy going. Chucking in an oriental femme fatale spiced it up. “If I was male it would have been quite different.”

Dr. Li, 45, has a PhD in Automotive Technology from Leeds University and has worked both as a Chinese Government official and for 16 years as an Automotive Consultant. Recent press coverage has described her as a “Chinese translator”, “petite interpreter” and “mistress”.

When you are working intensively on a deal – and I was in China for 180 days negotiating – all the team members try to support each other. Maybe sometimes the support went slightly beyond the boundaries. But as far as I am concerned this was not a relationship.” Dr. Qu Li

Nick Stephenson, one of four MG Rover Directors whose £42m remuneration was termed “excessive” by the report, hired Dr. Li to help find Chinese industrial partners early in 2004. That led to lengthy but ultimately abortive talks with Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation (SAIC). The Inspectors, Guy Newey, a Barrister, and Gervase MacGregor, an Accountant, devote about a page to establishing that Mr Stephenson and Dr. Li had a “personal relationship” that year.

Dr. Li says she was “shocked and shaken” by the “inappropriate” interest the Inspectors manifested in her sex life during a two-day evidence session. She says: “Mr Newey was particularly aggressive in his manner. It was disgusting.” He owes her an apology, she believes. Mr Newey was not available for comment yesterday.

Mr Stephenson was divorced and Dr. Li in a long-term relationship with another man. She describes the “very private issue” between herself and Mr Stephenson as follows: “When you are working intensively on a deal – and I was in China for 180 days negotiating – all the team members try to support each other. Maybe sometimes the support went slightly beyond the boundaries. But as far as I am concerned this was not a relationship.”

The result, she says, is that she was “rubbished” in the report. Her professional pride is hurt by the suggestion that she was overpaid for her services through a contract that gave her a 2 per cent fee for successful deals. She says that MG Rover would have collapsed much earlier had she not brokered sales of vehicle technology that brought £120m into its coffers.

Another oddity of the report, according to critics, is its scant scrutiny of the role of senior Labour politicians when MG Rover was teetering on the brink. There are only two references to Gordon Brown, who as Chancellor is thought to have withheld a £110m bridging loan from MG Rover. Dr. Li is mentioned more than 140 times.

Dr.Li says that the report does not acknowledge a scramble in the early part of this decade among western manufacturers to sign up Chinese partners. This increased sharply the value of the services of fixers with good contacts among Chinese manufacturers and in the Chinese Government. A senior British engineering executive unconnected with Dr. Li confirms that. He says: “There was a gold rush. If you had good knowledge or contacts you could charge highly for them.”

Another oddity of the report, according to critics, is its scant scrutiny of the role of senior Labour politicians when MG Rover was teetering on the brink. There are only two references to Gordon Brown, who as Chancellor is thought to have withheld a £110m bridging loan from MG Rover. Dr. Li is mentioned more than 140 times.

Dr. Li is unabashed by her subsequent activities at Longbridge, MG Rover’s former home. Nanjing Automobile, the Chinese vehicle maker that later merged with SAIC, hired her to work there with Mr Stephenson. Their job was to advise Nanjing on the removal to China of production lines bought from the administrators.

Such “lift and shift” operations are highly contentious in the Midlands, where they symbolise industrial decline. Dr. Li is now understood to be advising SAIC on buying the assets of LDV, which collapsed in June, in what could also turn into a “lift and shift”. Confidentiality agreements prevent her from discussing this, she says. But Dr. Li is determined not to be cast as the enemy. “I can still deliver a lot for this country,” she says. “There is a great need for the UK and China to collaborate.”

Fees were ‘much too high’

The Government-sponsored report about the collapse of MG Rover, published earlier this month, included these findings concerning Qu Li, an industrial consultant employed by the car company:

* Dr. Li was paid a retainer of £1,000 a week, plus £1,000 for every day spent supporting overseas negotiations and £750 a day for British negotiations. This arrangement cost MG Rover £352,794

* MG Rover also paid Dr. Li £1.34m in success fees for her involvement in the sale of intellectual property rights to a Chinese company

* The fees were “in aggregate much too high”. The success fees, in particular, were “plainly excessive” compared with the remuneration Dr. Li had received previously

* Dr. Li had “a personal relationship” with Nick Stephenson, the Director of MG Rover responsible for hiring her, during 2004

* An Eversheds lawyer reported that Dr. Li “did not add much” to negotiations.

[Source: Financial Times]

Posted in: AROnline News, MG Rover
Clive Goldthorp

About the Author:

Clive claims that his interest in the BMC>MG story dates back to his childhood in the 1960s when the family’s garage premises were leased to a tenant with an Austin agency. However, back in the 1920s and 1930s, his grandmother was one of the country’s first female Garage Proprietors so cars probably run in his genes! Admits to affairs with Alfa Romeos, but has more recently owned an 06/06 MG TF 135 and then a 15/64 MG3 Style… Clive, who was AROnline’s News Editor for nearly four years, stood down from that role in order to devote more time to various Motor Racing projects but still contributes articles on as regular basis as his other commitments permit.

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