DIY chain chiefs 'fed false £22m profit to auditors'

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The Independent Online

A DIY chain chief teamed up with four senior executives to put a bogus £22m gloss on the company's ailing financial health, a court was told yesterday.

In what amounted to a "major fraud" and an "abuse of public trust", false records were repeatedly fed to auditors acting for Wickes Plc in an attempt to conceal its poor trading performance, it was claimed. The action not only protected the company's share price but allowed those behind the alleged dishonesty to "gain significantly in financial terms", Southwark Crown Court in London was told.

Anthony Hacking QC, for the prosecution, said: "We submit all the defendants knew enough of the business to realise that the very considerable hole in Wickes' profits was being filled by income which could not truthfully be explained."

Appearing before the court were Henry Sweetbaum, 64, the former group chairman and chief executive, Geoffrey Battersby, 41, the group's former financial controller, and Trefor Llewellyn, 54, who was the group's finance director for part of the alleged fraud's lifetime.

Also appearing were Terence Carson, 50, who was finance director of the parent company's main retailing operating subsidiary, Wickes Building Supplies (WBS), and Leslie Rosenthal, 52, who was the group's trading director responsible for buying.

They variously deny two counts of fraudulent trading involving Wickes Plc and WBS, and four of making a false statement to the auditors Arthur Andersen between 1 January 1994 and 27 June 1996.

A "detailed analysis into the false inflation of profits" centred on 14 selected suppliers in 1994 and 1995. The trial continues.