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Jail for ex-Euro Leisure boss

Michael Ward, former chairman and chief executive of European Leisure, was yesterday convicted on two counts at Southwark Crown Court and sentenced to twelve months in prison. He was taken to Brixton prison to start his sentence.

Ward's conviction resulted from an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office which was looking into allegations that he had received illegal cash payments during his tenure at European Leisure, the company that owns a number of nightclubs including the Hippodrome in London's West End.

He was found guilty of causing the falsification of a document and making a false or misleading document contrary to Section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1987.

He was acquitted of a third charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice.

The Serious Fraud Office's case against Ward was an unusual one in that he had already been convicted once in an SFO-inspired prosecution for conspiracy to defraud and theft.

That conviction, in March last year, related to an illegal share support scheme entered into by Ward in the takeover by European Leisure of Midsummer Leisure in 1990.

Ward, a former director of International Corporate Finance at SG Warburg, was sentenced to 220 hours of community service.

The prosecution argued during the latest trial that Ward knew the SFO was bound to be interested in certain cash transactions and in the extent of his knowledge of alleged illegal cash payments or "kickbacks."

Knowing that he would be interviewed under Section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act, which makes it a criminal offence not to provide information, Mr Ward was said to have recruited a builder, Brook Anderson, to falsify a receipt concerning a bogus pounds 89,000 sale of furniture in 1989 and 1990 to an acquaintance of his, Lynn Russell, in Los Angeles.

Ms Russell was flown from the US to attend the trial and told the court she was first asked to provide a much larger receipt.

She described her unhappiness about the scheme but said that she went ahead with it in the end. Judge Rivlin described the offences as "deliberate and carefully planned." He said Mr Ward "had done nothing to mitigate the seriousness of the offence."

"A criminal investigation must not be obstructed by powerful men with resources at their disposal, telling lies and having important documents forged," he said.

The jury heard evidence from Clive Wolman, the former City Editor of the Mail on Sunday, whose newspaper paid around pounds 4,000 to Mr Anderson for co-operation on stories about Ward.

Ward denied Mr Anderson's claims that he had pressured him into obtaining the false receipt.

Mr Anderson had said during the trial that Mr Ward had threatened him on a number of occasions.

Referring to Mr Anderson, Mr Wolman said that he had met him to discuss payments and the extent of his co-operation on stories about Mr Ward. He had found Mr Anderson to be a "very frightened man."

Ward alleged the Mail on Sunday newspaper, which he is suing, had entered his home and stole some documents which were passed to the SFO.

Mr Wolman denied that and said documents had been given to one of the paper's reporters by Ward's former wife, Leonora.

Yesterday Ward issued a statement saying that he "was not cowed" by the verdict. "I maintain my innocence of all charges and will work hard to have these convictions overturned."