Walker denies 5m pounds consultancy fee was bogus payment

GEORGE WALKER, the former chairman and chief executive of Brent Walker, yesterday denied that a pounds 5m consultancy fee he negotiated for a Paris-based businessman was a smokescreen designed to hide theft.

Mr Walker told Southwark Crown Court that 'tremendous' deals which Michael Eland brought the group in the 1980s had earned him every penny. It was a genuine payment that had helped the leisure group to reap large profits.

'He did services for Brent Walker at a very cheap rate. Any professional body that had done the same amount of work would have asked double the money,' Mr Walker said in answer to his counsel, Colin Nicholls QC.

The court heard that the fee was mainly for Mr Eland's work concerning a leisure and residential complex at Le Touquet, France, and a development in the US. The American project involved the purchase of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles and its proposed conversion into a development similar to London's Trocadero centre.

Mr Walker said he was personally involved in the French development, using Mr Eland's services for a concept aimed at bringing pounds 100m in profit. The purchase of property and his own designs in 1987 came as the Channel Tunnel project was going ahead. He said the complex, including hotels, second homes, a casino and three golf courses, would become a tremendous attraction just two and a half hours' drive from London.

Referring to the US deal, introduced to him by Mr Eland, Mr Walker said his consortium moved quickly to beat Donald Trump to the site, 'which annoyed him enormously but gave us great pleasure'. A holding in that venture was later sold to Mr Trump to give the Americans an acceptable front name.

Mr Walker said the commission Mr Eland received reflected his work on the deals as well as his help with a couple of smaller ones. All of Brent Walker's directors were told about the fee, he added.

The prosecution has alleged the 65-year-old businessman stole pounds 17m from his leisure empire during a six-year fraud operation. Peter Rook QC, prosecuting, has claimed that the pounds 5m payment was part of a smokescreen Mr Walker later helped to create to try to hide his dishonesty.

A letter confirming Mr Eland had received the money was 'fictional', it was alleged.

Mr Walker and Wilfred Aquilina, Brent Walker's former finance director, have pleaded not guilty to two joint charges of false accounting, one of theft and one of conspiracy to falsify accounts. Mr Walker is separately accused of three theft offences and Mr Aquilina of one of false accounting.

The trial continues.