Fraud inquiry after arrest of Royal Academy official

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The Independent Online

A fraud inquiry has been launched into the finances of the Royal Academy, the 228-year-old home of Britain's greatest artists, which has a turnover of pounds 14m a year, following the arrest of Trevor Clark, the bursar.

Mr Clark, 43, who was arrested and released on bail three weeks ago, has been questioned by Scotland Yard over allegations of theft spanning five years. A High Court writ for fraud has also been issued against him by the Academy.

The Academy, whose prestigious membership is made up of 80 academics, painters, engravers and sculptors, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year. But it has no public subsidy, relying on income from exhibitions, and occasional sales of its treasures, to survive.

A Scotland Yard spokeswoman confirmed yesterday that an investigation was taking place. "We are investigating the alleged theft of an amount of money from between 1991 and 1995, reported to the police on 24 January," she said.

The Academy dismissed reports that the sum being investigated ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds as "speculation." Piers Rodgers, secretary of the Academy, said: "We picked up irregularities in the course of our normal checks into the accounts, and we are currently undertaking our own investigation, separately from the police."

He added: "It's very upsetting for everyone. The Academy is a small group of people who know each other pretty well. But none of this is going to affect the programme of the Academy in any way at all, and we hope to recover any funds that have been lost."

The police inquiry is expected to concentrate on the Academy's main trading account for exhibitions. In the last five years it has had some of its most successful shows, including a Monet exhibition in 1991, and a major exhibition of African art last year, which drew in almost 1 million people between them.

Mr Clark, who took on the position of bursar in 1979, was reportedly unavailable to comment on the inquiry last weekend at his Hertfordshire home. "There may be a time when I can put my side, but until my solicitors allow me to, I won't," he is understood to have said.

Last year's financial figures for the Academy are not available, but are understood to be "very much better" than the accounts for the previous year, when the Academy lost pounds 647,000, even though attendances were up.

The loss was attributed to a fall in corporate sponsorship, and Mr Rodgers said it was not connected to the alleged fraud.