Levitt admits charge of fraudulent trading: Failed adviser changes one plea but still denies producing false accounts

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ROGER LEVITT, the former financial adviser, unexpectedly changed his plea yesterday and admitted a charge of fraudulent trading.

The failed businessman's decision followed days of legal argument and came more than a week after the jury trying him had first been told he masterminded a massive fraud to shore up his ailing business.

When the indictment was read out to him again, Levitt, 44, who specialised in advising rich and famous clients, made it clear that he was pleading guilty to only one of three main allegations contained in the charge against him.

He told the jury, which had originally been told that the trial could last up to four months, that he admitted fraudulently misleading Fimbra, the City watchdog. Fimbra had alleged that Levitt produced or caused to be produced various 'false, misleading and deceptive' documents including a balance sheet, fee notes, invoices, letters and minutes of a Levitt Group board meeting that purported to show that his company had received more than pounds 20.7m for personal advisory work he had carried out.

The former businessman has been accused of using fraud, forgery, deception and dishonesty to raise cash from clients including Frederick Forsyth, the thriller writer.

The Southwark Crown Court jury, trying the case in an Old Bailey annexe in Chancery Lane, was told that Mr Forsyth lost pounds 900,000 that he believed would be invested in bonds.

After hearing Levitt's new plea, the jury returned a verdict of guilty. Levitt still denies fraudulently producing and distributing false accounts and fraudulently injecting funds into his company, which crashed in December 1990 with debts of pounds 34m.

David Cocks QC, prosecuting on behalf of the Serious Fraud Office, said he would decide today whether to accept Levitt's new plea.

He agreed with Mr Justice Laws that this was because a 'larger picture' might then be brought before the court.

He told the judge that three of Levitt's former directors, who have been on trial with him on the same fraudulent trading charge, 'may wish to consider their position' overnight.

They are Mark Reed, 39, the former managing director; the fellow director Alan McNamara, 29; and Robert Price, 42, the former finance director.

After his change of plea Levitt was allowed bail without sureties until today.

One of the things that will be decided today is whether to seek a full pre-sentence report, which could mean an adjournment of several weeks. Alternatively what is known as a 'stand down report' could be asked for, enabling matters to be dealt with much more quickly. The trial was adjourned until today.