Walker tells jury of weakening control as group expanded

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GEORGE WALKER claimed yesterday that his direct control of the Brent Walker property and leisure empire shrank as the group expanded.

Beginning his defence against charges of theft involving pounds 17m, false accounting and conspiracy to falsify accounts, Mr Walker said he was forced to trust colleagues heading Brent Walker subsidiaries.

Giving evidence for the first time in the fourth month of the trial, Mr Walker told the jury that as the former chairman and chief executive he had been the 'ideas man', taking charge of development.

Asked about the degree of control he exercised, he said: 'Obviously as the company grew in size my control of detail got less and less.'

While Brent Walker remained a privately owned concern he had tighter control, but when it went public for the second time in 1985 'we had so many divisions and people working for me that I had to trust them. We had to set up the different divisions with their own chief executives and teams for financial control,' he said.

He said that once a month he brought division heads together so they could put their case for an injection of cash to fund further growth. 'There is a finite amount of money for development.'

Asked about his own contribution to Brent Walker's success, he said: 'Basically I was the deal- maker. More importantly, my main role was the development side of the company. I ran the development of Brent Walker, property development, and I never really gave that up.'

Mr Walker added: 'I was the developer of Brent Walker the concept, the ideas, the purchase and sales.'

He said that between 1985 and 1990 the group was developing projects worth around pounds 2bn. Funding came from borrowing, rights issues and sales of various interests.

Co-defendant Wilfred Aquilina, the former group finance director also accused of fraud, was described by Mr Walker as 'marvellous, bloody marvellous . . . We both worked tremendously hard'.

The prosecution alleges that between 1984 and 1987 money was syphoned out of the group, laundered through international accounts and returned as 'sham income' in Brent Walker's film division.

It is claimed this helped to attract investment. Peter Rook QC, prosecuting, alleges that later bogus transactions were entered into accounts to cover up the fraud.

The trial continues.