Walker jury told of crime against shareholders

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The Independent Online
MULTI-MILLION-POUND company fraud did not have to leave 'ruined widows and orphans' in its wake to qualify as real crime, the Brent Walker jury was told yesterday.

Summing up in the four-month trial of the former Brent Walker chairman and chief executive, George Walker, and its one-time finance director, Wilfred Aquilina, Judge Geoffrey Rivlin QC said that the question of victims was first raised by Mr Walker's counsel, Colin Nicholls QC, who had said no evidence had been heard from widows and orphans who had lost money.

'With respect to Mr Nicholls one would have thought by now we had moved away from the idea that real fraud must be about ruining widows and orphans and in some way, shape or form commercial company fraud might somehow be victimless. It is not,' he said.

The money had to come from somewhere and ultimately it belonged to the shareholders.

'It doesn't matter who they are or the size of their shareholdings. They are all equally entitled to be protected from an abuse of trust by the directors,' the judge said.

The judge reminded the jury that the Crown claimed that for six years Mr Walker and Mr Aquilina, helped occasionally by others, had presided over a pounds 19.3m profit fraud. They later used layers of bogus documentation and money laundered on a huge international scale to cover up their dishonesty.

Peter Rook QC, prosecuting, has alleged that the pair wanted to present a false picture of good financial health to Brent Walker's expansion-funding investors.

The judge said a firm's shareholders should never be 'deliberately and dishonestly manipulated'.

The judge told the jury that in the case they were trying the Crown claimed the alleged fraud 'could not have functioned, let alone continued a number of years, without Mr Walker's knowledge and full authority and without Mr Aquilina's assistance'.

Mr Walker, 65, and Mr Aquilina, 43, deny two joint charges of false accounting, one of theft and one of conspiracy to falsify accounts. In addition Mr Walker is alone accused of three theft charges and Mr Aquilina is alone accused of one charge of false accounting.

Dealing with the main thrust of the defence case, the judge said Mr Walker had denied carrying out any dishonest deals. His company had always been run honestly and any impression to the contrary was illusory. A 'second string to his bow' was that if there had been any wrong-doing it had been carried out behind his back.

He had said many of the documents featured in the case had been presented to him by trusted executives and he had signed them without knowing what they were about, but in some cases his signature had been forged.

Mr Aquilina, the judge reminded the jury, did not give evidence but had maintained through his counsel he had never done anything dishonest and had always acted in good faith. It had also been suggested on his behalf that if there had been a fraud it would have been detected by auditors, solicitors and other professionals at the time. The trial continues.