Brent Walker pounds 5m fee 'covered fraud'

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GEORGE Walker, former chairman and chief executive of Brent Walker, claimed to have paid a consultant pounds 5m in commission so he could cover up fraud in his property and leisure empire, a court heard yesterday.

Peter Rook QC, prosecuting, said Mr Walker attempted to use investment adviser Michael Eland, head of Anglo French Investments, as part of a 'smokescreen'.

The jury was told that the consultant was hired on a pounds 100,000 annual retainer in 1990, but his name was then used in a bid to hide dishonesty committed years earlier.

Mr Eland had been chasing pounds 216,000 from Brent Walker in unpaid fees, yet the company's auditors were presented with a 'fictional' letter saying he had been paid pounds 5m. Mr Rook alleged Mr Walker told his directors Mr Eland was a 'slippery character' but was paid significant amounts because he had earned Brent Walker large sums of money.

Mr Rook was speaking on the fourth day of his opening speech at Chichester Rents, Chancery Lane, an Old Bailey annexe used for fraud trials. It is alleged that Mr Walker, 65, and former group finance director Wilfred Aquilina, 42, illegally extracted money from Brent Walker, laundered it through international accounts and moved it back into the company as pounds 19.3m of sham profit.

Mr Rook said Mr Walker decided commission payments and often made verbal agreements with consultants without first clearing it with the board of directors. 'They (the board) were not to know this was a reference to fictional commission to cover up a pounds 5m extraction.'

'It may be Mr Walker thought he could put forward this payment without discussion and without scrutiny by the board.'

Mr Walker and Mr Aquilina plead not guilty to theft, false accounting and conspiracy. The case continues.