Wetherspoon toasts victory as property fraud case is settled

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The Independent Online

There's a bit more cheer than usual down at JD Wetherspoon. The pub chain has just settled a long-running fraud case against property agent Paul Ferrari.

The 800-strong chain — chairman Tim Martin intends to expand to 1600 — is to get £50,000 and a property worth £500,000 under the terms of the deal. That's less that it was seeking as it said it lost millions of pounds, but Mr Martin is still claiming victory.

Mr Justice Peter Smith ruled in the High Court that Wetherspoons had been the victim of "fraud and dishonest breach of duty" by the property agents.

The civil claims against Mr Ferrari concerned five property transactions in the mid-1990s — referred to by the judge as the "Ferrari Five". Wetherspoons should have been told that the chance had arisen to purchase the freeholds.

Mr Justice Smith had earlier found that property consultancy Van De Berg had dishonestly used confidential information to sell properties to rival companies while exclusively working for the pub chain.

Rather than offer the five freehold properties to Wetherspoon, Van De Berg offered them to Mr Ferrari's company.

Three of these properties were subsequently sold to Wetherspoons, giving Ferrari profits of about £1.3m.

Mr Martin said: "Wetherspoon has lost millions of pounds as a result of the dishonest activities of Van De Berg, and we are pleased to have made this further recovery from beneficiaries of the transactions which were the subject of Wetherspoon's successful claim against Van De Berg.

"It took a long legal case to persuade Paul Ferrari to agree to make this payment and to transfer this property in Sleaford to Wetherspoon. Our claim was for a much larger sum, but we agreed to settle for less for commercial reasons," added Mr Martin.

Van De Berg earned more than £14 million in fees over 15 years for identifying properties that JD Wetherspoon could convert into pubs.