Oxford gets £50m from books arm as it overcomes African fraud

Oxford University Press (OUP) claimed it has put a fraud scandal behind it as annual sales rose 4 per cent despite "incredibly tough" trading conditions in parts of the eurozone and Africa.

The publishing arm of Oxford University was hit by a £1.9m fine last July after the Serious Fraud Office found OUP subsidiaries in Tanzania and Kenya had been guilty of "unlawful conduct".

The OUP's chief executive Nigel Portwood admitted a "top priority" had been to address the fraud scandal, even though senior management in the UK had nothing to do with it.

"Our commitment to the highest ethical standards is absolute and we have devoted substantial effort and considerable resources to addressing the past misconduct," he said.

Pre-tax profits rose slightly to £116.2m in the year to March. Sales were £759.2m, up 4.4 per cent on a like-for-like basis, as the group embraced digital.

OUP helps to fund the university's activities and the publisher transferred £50m of funds this year – on a par with a year ago, but sharply down on a one-off £235m windfall two years ago.

The publishing group, the world's largest university press, has been looking overseas for growth, with sales in emerging markets up 12 per cent.

But Mr Portwood admitted there has been "disruption in some of our African markets" as the World Bank has refused to use OUP for three years after the fraud scandal in the region.

Spain was also hard hit because of economic turmoil in the eurozone.

The annual report also revealed that OUP's pension fund suffered a £48.6m actuarial loss in funds last year, but it was only a theoretical drop and was based on a change to potential future liabilities.

Digital was worth 19 per cent of group sales as customers move away from print. Half of all sales in OUP's global academic division were digital.The education market is also shifting to electronic formats.

"These trends offer exciting opportunities," said Mr Portwood.

OUP publishes thousands of titles a year and employs more than 6,000 people worldwide.