Ward tells of Swiss bank account

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THE JUDGE trying the case of Thomas Ward, the former Guinness director charged with stealing pounds 5.2m from the company after the Distillers bid in 1986, yesterday questioned Mr Ward on why he opened a secret Swiss bank account that year.

Mr Ward had acknowledged to the court at the Old Bailey that he had not tried to open a Swiss bank account before then. Mr Justice Turner asked why he passed over the simpler option of opening an account in the Channel Islands, where he had business interests.

Mr Ward, 53, an American lawyer, is accused of stealing pounds 5.2m in a joint enterprise with Ernest Saunders, the former chief executive of Guinness. Mr Ward says the money was a success fee paid to him in May 1986 for advice given during the takeover bid.

The court heard that when Mr Ward received the pounds 5.2m he lodged just over pounds 3m in a Swiss bank account belonging to Mr Saunders. Some six months later he moved it to a Swiss account newly opened on his behalf.

Mr Ward testified that he had never considered depositing the money in an American bank, and would not have considered US banks sufficiently safe. Deposits were only insured to the value of dollars 100,000.

Mr Justice Turner asked: 'Did you consider opening a bank account in Jersey with one of the major English banks?' Mr Ward replied: 'No I did not.'

'It looks such an easy solution, don't you agree?' the judge said. 'A lot of things look easier now than they would have been then,' Mr Ward responded.

The judge wondered why, as an intelligent man, the idea of a Channel Islands account had not occurred to Mr Ward at the time. Mr Ward said he did not want the funds controlled by one person.

He told the court that he had set up the Swiss account as a tax escrow account because he wanted to keep the money separate from his disposable income.

The prosecution alleges the money was moved on because the Department of Trade and Industry was about to investigate the bid and Mr Ward and Mr Saunders did not want the payment traced to Mr Saunders' account. Mr Ward says the money was moved because Mr Saunders did not want to have to pay tax on it.