Walker executive 'left distressed by cover-up'

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The Independent Online
A massive cover-up, allegedly sanctioned by former Brent Walker chief George Walker to hide years of false profit taking, reminded one of his executives of the Watergate scandal, a court heard yesterday.

The move, designed to conceal a series of bogus film deals at the heart of dizzying growth at the Brent Walker leisure company in the 1980s, involved many complicated financial transactions, it was claimed. But it was regarded as necessary to ensure the company's prosperity.

Former executive Frederick Fisher III said he was left "distressed and breath-taken" by what his then boss, Donald Anderson, revealed was happening.

He told Southwark Crown Court the subterfuge reminded him of the former American president Richard Nixon's demise. "Although it sounded corny - but I am an American - I said Richard Nixon was not actually convicted for breaking into Watergate, it was the cover-up subsequently."

Mr Fisher, one-time corporate development director of Brent Walker film and television subsidiary Goldcrest, was giving evidence against Mr Anderson, who denies one charge of attempting to pervert the course of justice between August 1989 and October 1990.

The Crown has claimed that Mr Anderson was the "architect" behind the "extensive operation" to conceal millions of pounds worth of false profit taken by Brent Walker from 1984 to 1987.

The "massive cover-up" was so successful that the Independent, which questioned the bona fides of some of the film deals involved, ended up settling a court action brought by Brent Walker. Even the Serious Fraud Office was convinced enough to call off an initial investigation into the affair.

Mr Fisher, who joined Goldcrest in 1989, told the court there came a stage when Mr Anderson mentioned the parent company's accounts were in a "mess", and he was trying to sort them out. However, the banker claimed, it was only later the full truth began to emerge. He alleged Mr Anderson revealed that he, company accountants and external auditors were pooling their efforts to "create documentation which supported transactions that did not exist".

He said Mr Anderson had invited him into a room he shared with Mr Walker, put a floppy disk into a computer and called up a list of "reconciliations".

"Mr Anderson said that from memory they totalled pounds 33m of operating profit to Brent Walker ... that was critical money, 60 per cent or more of the company's operating income."

He said: "I was really distressed by this. I said the way I had originally understood things it was a clean-up exercise and I felt it had gone beyond that to become a cover-up exercise."

He told the jury the chartered accountant indicated "that it was being done at the behest of Mr Walker". Mr Fisher said he understood the cover-up was launched to counter an article in the Independent which had questioned some of the deals. The trial was adjourned until today.