Walker says Brent was cold-shouldered by banks

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The Independent Online
CITY institutions failed to support the expansion of Brent Walker, the property and leisure group, George Walker said yesterday. The 65-year- old former group chairman and chief executive told a jury of his battle to raise cash to fund new projects and meet existing commitments.

Mr Walker admitted that as the scale of Brent Walker's expansion escalated, cash within the group was tight. An Arab bank, impressed by earlier successful projects in the Middle East, had invested money and twice helped to stave off liquidation.

The prosecution has alleged that the involvement of the Tunis International Bank was a vehicle for fraud and part of a money trail. Peter Rook QC, prosecuting, said that money was illegally taken out of Brent Walker, laundered through offshore accounts and returned to the group as 'sham income'.

He alleged the bogus profits were centred on Brent Walker's film division and that false deals were entered into company books to account for the money.

Mr Walker told the court: 'It is fair to say that the banking community were not as supportive as I thought they should have been. Every time we borrowed money they got me to put my assets and my family assets up as guarantee, something virtually unheard of for a public company.'

Giving evidence for the second day, Mr Walker said: 'Mr Ibrahaim (head of TIB) put money in and twice saved the company from liquidation.'

On one occasion, when Brent Walker did not have the available money to repay a pounds 3m advance by the deadline, Hill Samuel, the group's merchant bank, and Standard Chartered Bank refused to help. Both advised him to go to the Bank of England to ask for help about going into voluntary liquidation. 'That went against the grain for me,' Mr Walker said. Mr Ibrahaim lent the money to pay the debt and stopped the company from going under.

Colin Nicholls QC, defending Mr Walker, said this was during the time it was alleged fraud was taking place within the film division, and asked Mr Walker what involvement he had in the sector after 1984. Mr Walker replied: 'I hope it is obvious to the judge and to the jury. My time, with the amount of buying and selling on behalf of the company and the amount of development going on - which ran into billions of pounds - meant the time I spent with the film division was minimal.' It had been about 2 per cent of his time in any year after 1985.

Mr Walker and his former group finance director, Wilfred Aquilina, jointly deny conspiracy to falsify accounts, two charges of false accounting and an offence of theft.

The trial continues.