Nissan UK chief behind 'massive' fraud, court told

OCTAV BOTNAR, the millionaire chairman of Nissan UK, was the prime mover behind a massive fraud that resulted in the Inland Revenue being swindled out of nearly pounds 100m, an Old Bailey jury was told yesterday.

The claim came on the first day of the trial of the company's managing director, Michael Hunt, on charges arising out of the alleged swindle.

Peter Rook QC, prosecuting, said it was an international fraud of 'truly massive proportions'. It was carried out over 17 years and involved the secret siphoning off of pounds 219m from the company's profits.

Mr Rook said that a warrant had been issued for Mr Botnar, but it had not been served as he was believed to be in Switzerland. He alleged that Mr Hunt, 59, with other 'sophisticated fraudsters' including Swiss bankers, laundered a huge amount through bank accounts in Geneva.

Mr Hunt, of Hove, East Sussex, has pleaded not guilty to two counts of conspiracy to cheat the Inland Revenue out of corporation tax and two of conspiracy to make use of false accounting documents between October 1975 and December 1991.

Opening the trial, which is expected to last six months, Mr Rook told the jury that between 1976 and 1991 approximately pounds 219m was extracted from Nissan UK, a completely separate operation from the Japanese car manufacturer Nissan Motor Company.

He claimed they did this by deliberately inflating freight charges - the cost of importing the vehicles into Britain - and making it appear the company's profits were that much lower.

In this way the alleged conspirators cheated the Inland Revenue out of pounds 97m, he said.