SFO finally clears Iceland founder of insider dealing

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The Independent Online

Malcolm Walker, the founder and former head of Iceland Group, has been officially cleared of insider dealing by the Serious Fraud Office. The organisation sent a letter to his lawyers, Clifford Chance, to confirm that the investigation is closed and that no charges will be brought against anyone. This brings to an end more than three years of inquiries into Iceland following Mr Walker's departure from the business in January 2001.

Mr Walker left Iceland, which changed its name to The Big Food Group in 2002, amid allegations that he had sold £13.5m of shares in the company just days before a shock profits warning issued by the new chief executive, Bill Grimsey, who is still head of BFG.

Mr Walker sold 4 million Iceland shares at 339.5p in December 2000. He quit as executive chairman soon after the profits warning, having been forced to cut short a holiday in the Maldives in an attempt to clear his name. The investigation into the share sale was first conducted by the Department of Trade and Industry, which passed it on to the Serious Fraud Office in April 2003. Mr Walker said over the weekend: "I never had the slightest doubt that I would be totally vindicated by any inquiry into alleged insider dealing in Iceland shares in late 2000.

"I decided to sell part of my shareholding at that time because I was retiring from my executive role in the company, and the sale was duly authorised by the non-executive directors of the company and the incoming management. My lawyers advised long ago that I had a clear and categorical defence, based on apparently undisputed facts, against any accusation that I had acted improperly or unlawfully."

While welcoming his clearance, Mr Walker said he regretted that it had taken almost four years to conclude the investigations. "The lack of urgency persisted right to the end, with my lawyers being notified of my clearance by a letter sent second class," he said.

After leaving Iceland, Mr Walker set up another frozen foods business, Cooltrader, with his former finance director Andy Pritchard to compete against his former company. Mr Walker said that like-for-like sales growth was "impressive".