Littlewoods faces writ after bribery case fails

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The Independent Online
Littlewoods is to be sued by one of its British consultants after the pools and retail group passed details of his alleged activities to police in Singapore, which led to his arrest.

Nicholas Leese, 40, was charged in 1996 by Singapore's Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau with taking bribes but was exonerated when a judge threw out his case last month.

The charges led to Mr Leese losing his passport and being held by police on 210 counts of corruption. He was only released when friends stumped up bail of 500,000 Singapore dollars (pounds 210,000).

Mr Leese said he would issue a writ for defamation through his lawyers in Singapore. "My reputation was dragged through the mud. I was taken by the police at 7.30 in the morning from a friend's flat. I was on the nightly news. I was handcuffed and led away. It is hardly a recommendation in the Far East.

"The whole affair has made it very difficult to continue trading in Singapore and I believe I have lost substantial earnings as a result," said Mr Leese.

Littlewoods sent its head of internal audit, Gary Speakman, to Singapore to testify in the case for the prosecution. The charges alleged bribes worth $12,000 (pounds 5,000). "It was a ridiculous set of charges. On one count I was alleged to have taken a kickback of less than $1," said Mr Leese.

"I believed that the Singaporean system would prove my innocence, which it did, and that is why is I am preparing to take legal action there."

Littlewoods accepts that it gave information to the authorities. "We believe the matter may be reinstated and cannot comment on Mr Leese's actions," said a spokeswoman.

The case is the latest twist in the colourful tale of one of Britain's richest families, the Moores, which owns Littlewoods. The company launched an investigation in 1994 into a deal between Littlewoods and a Far Eastern trading company, Lorad, run by Mr Leese.

The Singapore-based company was used by Littlewoods in order to cut out middlemen when buying merchandise in Asia. The deal between the company and Lorad was set up by a group of senior executives, all of whom have subsequently been ousted or left.

One faction of the Moores family became so concerned about the deal with Lorad that it hired a private detective agency, Network Security Management, to investigate the transaction.

However, there has recently been some disquiet over the bills clocked up by Network - believed to top pounds 15m. It has been accused of "interrogating" managers - one even ended up on a course of valium - in pursuing its investigation.

Documents seen by The Independent show that the Littlewoods board was concerned whether "the activities undertaken by them [Network] are in the interests of the company". Shareholders have also become increasingly uneasy about the ensuing investigations.