Saunders account 'was bolt-hole'

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The Independent Online
A SWISS bank account belonging to Ernest Saunders, former chief executive of Guinness, was the bolt-hole for a large share of pounds 5.2m allegedly stolen from the company in 1986 by Thomas Ward, another former director of the company, a court was told yesterday.

Just over pounds 3m went into the account after Mr Ward, an American lawyer who advised Guinness on its bid for Distillers, submitted a false invoice to the company for pounds 5.2m.

It was made out to Marketing and Acquisition Consultants, a company controlled by Mr Ward. The pounds 3m stayed in Mr Saunders's account for nearly six months when, together with money put in from the MAC account, it was transferred to an account held by Mr Ward, the Old Bailey heard.

Victor Temple, prosecuting, alleged that the men had realised that an inquiry into Guinness was inevitable. Mr Ward was to control and distribute the money, thereby deflecting attention from Mr Saunders.

Mr Ward, 53, is charged with the theft of pounds 5.2m worth of Guinness property, false accounting and dishonestly procuring the execution of a valuable security by deception. He says the pounds 5.2m was a legitimate success fee.

But Olivier Roux, former finance director of Guinness and a principal prosecution witness, claimed that Mr Ward told him the money was needed to pay US consultants on the bid.

Mr Roux said he took the invoice to Mr Saunders for approval because MAC had received dollars 100,000 from Guinness for advisory work done in the early 1980s, before Mr Ward became a director of the company.

At that time Mr Ward told him that MAC could disperse money according to his instructions. Since payments to directors had to be disclosed, Mr Roux continued: 'I wanted to have (Mr Saunders's) confirmation that this invoice should be paid and I wanted his confirmation that he was clear . . . that it was not money going to Ward.'

Mr Temple said the payment was never disclosed to, and 'still less approved by', the full board of Guinness directors. 'The only people who knew the reality of the position and the true purpose of the invoice were Ward and Saunders,' he alleged.

Andrew Trollope QC, for the defence, warned the jury that Mr Roux's evidence should be treated with the 'greatest possible caution'. He had lied at considerable length, he said, to DTI inspectors and had, in effect, been offered immunity from prosecution.

There was no plan between Mr Ward and Mr Saunders to steal money from Guinness, nor for Mr Saunders to take a share for himself. He denied that any false invoice was submitted and said Mr Ward did not lie or mislead anyone about the nature of the payment.

The trial continues today.