Former chief of European Leisure accused

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MICHAEL WARD, former chairman and chief executive of European Leisure, yesterday appeared at Bow Street Magistrates' Court in London charged with conspiracy to defraud, theft and false accounting, writes John Murray.

He was remanded on conditional bail along with Jeremy Howarth, another former European director, and George Hendry, who ceased to be a director yesterday.

The charges relate to the takeover of Midsummer Leisure by European in May 1990. Among them are that the three men conspired together and with others to create a false or misleading market in European Leisure shares to induce Midsummer shareholders to take European shares.

The charges follow an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office and the Metropolitan police.

Mr Ward, 45, built up European Leisure from an Irish shell company into an entertainment and nightclub group that owned venues such as the Camden Palace and the London Hippodrome. He was formerly a merchant banker with Morgan Grenfell, Samuel Montagu and S G Warburg.

He resigned as chairman and chief executive in July 1991 after the company's shares crashed to 5p from a 1989 high of 120p. The company, now under new management, is in talks with its lenders to agree a strategy to reduce a pounds 77m debt mountain.