Link with boxing champion 'could have saved Levitt': Liquidator gave away contract for pounds 18,000, QC tells court

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD heavyweight boxing champion Lennox Lewis could have saved the author Frederick Forsyth and hundreds of other investors from losing millions in the collapse of the Levitt group, a Southwark Crown Court jury was told yesterday.

Jonathan Goldberg QC, defending, said that Roger Levitt, 44, had a 25 per cent stake in the boxer over a five- year period.

The boxer's huge earnings would have wiped out the debts of the tycoon's collapsed business empire. But the liquidator of the group was alleged to have given the contract away for just pounds 18,000 when the group was wound up in December 1990, owing pounds 34m.

'The gentleman who bought it must now think he is the luckiest man in the world for it has made him untold millions,' Mr Goldberg said.

'If the Levitt group had been allowed by circumstances to trade a bit longer, the benefit of the Lennox Lewis contract alone would have restored it to shining solvency, enormous profitability and nobody would have lost out all, notably not Mr Frederick Forsyth.'

The author of Day Of The Jackal, described as a close friend of Mr Levitt, lost pounds 900,000 when the group was wound up. It is alleged that Mr Levitt used pounds 20m of investors' money to prop up the ailing group.

David Cocks QC, for the prosecution, alleged that the group was 'riddled with fraud, forgery, deception and downright dishonesty'. Mr Levitt and his co-accused, Mark Read, 39, Alan McNamara, 29, and Robert Price, 42, deny one charge of fraudulent trading.

Mr Goldberg said Mr Levitt was an 'ideas man', not a 'details man'. At the height of his business empire he was ranked by the financial press as one of the 200 richest men in Britain. But he could not read a balance sheet or a set of accounts.

'This is the story of a man who worked 14 hours a day and every weekend to build up a massive business, but who personally lacked the necessary business sophistication,' counsel said.

'He was unable to prevent the massive and culpable incompetence and perhaps also some dishonesty in the ranks of his staff.

'Some of those who are most responsible for the collapse, like rats deserting a sinking ship, are now coming to court with a promise of immunity from their own richly deserved prosecution.'

Mr Goldberg said that Mr Levitt was an East End boy who had made good. He was streetwise and quick to see a profit.

'He is the man who discovered and promoted Lennox Lewis . . . Mr Levitt signed him up in a management contract with the Levitt group in early 1989. At that time he was largely unknown.'