Walker applies to be made bankrupt

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The Independent Online
GEORGE WALKER, the former chairman of the leisure group Brent Walker who is facing theft charges involving pounds 12.5m, yesterday took the unusual step of applying to have himself made bankrupt after his application for legal aid was turned down.

The move is likely to mean that Mr Walker, who is in Moscow working for his wife's cigarette machine company, will be made bankrupt at a hearing set for the morning of 22 March. He will be disqualified from holding any directorships, operating a bank account or using credit cards and will remain bankrupt for a minimum of three years.

The move will make him Britain's second-largest bankrupt after Kevin Maxwell, who was bankrupted owing pounds 407m last September. Mr Maxwell's brother, Ian, last week paid pounds 500,000 into court to avoid attempts to make him bankrupt for a similar amount.

Michael Coleman, a partner at the law firm Harkavys, which is representing Mr Walker, said that unless he received legal aid, Mr Walker would have to follow the example of the Guinness defendent Roger Seelig and defend himself. 'It would be quite unfair and wholly impractical to expect Mr Walker personally to investigate, prepare and present at trial his defence,' Mr Coleman said.

Mr Walker was charged in January with four offences of theft and false accounting covering amounts totalling pounds 12.5m. The former finance director of Brent Walker, Wilfred Aquilina, was charged with false accounting.

Mr Walker, a former boxer and fish porter who built a pounds 1bn leisure and property empire in the late 1980s, owes nearly pounds 180m to a mixture of banks, offshore trusts and the Inland Revenue and for more than six months has been fighting attempts to make him bankrupt.

In September an individual's voluntary arrangement, a scheme by which a debtor makes over his assets to his creditors to avoid being made bankrupt, was controversially approved by a narrow majority after a stormy creditors' meeting.

TSB Group, which leads the syndicate of banks that is Mr Walker's largest creditor, applied to have the IVA struck out, on the grounds that the chairman of the meeting, Ray Hocking of the accountants Stoy Hayward, allowed some creditors to vote that should not have while some bona fide creditors were disqualified unfairly.

A hearing for this petition had been set for 22 March, but this will now be turned over to an application by Mr Hocking for Mr Walker to be made bankrupt at his own request.

Mr Coleman said the decision to apply for Mr Walker's bankruptcy was taken over the weekend after Mr Walker learned on Thursday that his application for legal aid was refused.

The reason given for the refusal was that Mr Walker still owned the pounds 100,000 of assets that he had made available for the IVA, even though he had, in effect, signed them over to his creditors.

Mr Coleman said it was an indication that the legal aid system was not up to date with the provisions of the Insolvency Act 1986.

The banks that have been pursuing Mr Walker are unconcerned about the precedent. 'It is the result we wanted at the end of the day,' an adviser to one of the banks said. A senior banker said: 'It is a triumph of justice through bureaucracy.'

Once Mr Walker is made bankrupt, there will be another creditors' meeting at which it will be decided who is to be his trustee in bankruptcy. It is expected that Mr Hocking will be proposed, as he already has some knowledge of Mr Walker's affairs thanks to his work on the IVA.

However, it is expected that many of the banks will object to Mr Hocking and will insist on an accountant new to the case. One of the bankers said he hoped the bankruptcy would lead to a thorough investigation of the series of trusts and related companies controlled by Mr Walker's family in locations as diverse as France, Spain, Russia and the West Indies.