Trainee accountant used as SFO witness

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The Independent Online
THE SERIOUS Fraud Office accountant whose evidence was thrown out in the recent failed prosecution of four Manchester company directors was a partly-qualified trainee, it emerged yesterday.

During the trial of the directors of Seil Trade & Finance, the jury was directed to 'expunge' the testimony of the SFO accountant, Paul Crake, from their minds.

Mr Crake was one of several accountants giving evidence in the case at Liverpool Crown Court which finished a fortnight ago, according to Accountancy Age magazine. The case is estimated to have cost the SFO pounds 2m.

After two days of cross-examination, Mr Crake, a part-qualified certified accountant employed by the SFO, said figures he had presented in evidence 'should not, in the interests of justice, have too much reliance placed upon them'.

The use of a relatively inexperienced accountant in such a high- profile prosecution may embarrass the SFO. The trial had to be decided without the benefit of Mr Crake's evidence.

The SFO's fate is being decided by the Government, which is considering whether to merge it with parts of the Crown Prosecution Service.

The office under George Staple has worked to slim its case-load, reduce the number of charges and achieve a higher conviction rate. Although the SFO would not comment yesterday on the Seil case, it is understood to be irritated that its first real failure this year has been seized on by its critics.

Seil collapsed in July 1991 owing about pounds 8m to creditors including City banks and two discount houses. The defendants, Nadim Siddiqui, Rehan Siddiqui, Maurice Craft and Leslie Couzens, arrested in December 1992, were acquitted.