George Walker faces 12.5m pounds theft charges: Colourful tycoon of the 1980s is bailed for pounds 500,000 and 'denies any dishonesty'

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GEORGE WALKER, the former property and leisure tycoon who was one of the most colourful businessmen of the 1980s, was charged yesterday with stealing pounds 12.5m. He is alleged to have taken the money from Brent Walker, the company he founded and chaired until ousted two years ago.

Mr Walker and the company's former finance director, Wilfred Aquilina, were silent throughout a 20-minute hearing at Bow Street magistrates' court. Both were charged with false accounting to cover up the thefts and bailed until 2 April. Bail of pounds 500,000 was provided for Mr Walker by relatives. His wife Jean and brother, the former boxer Billy, were in court.

The hearing was the culmination of a 15- month investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and the Metropolitan Police Fraud Squad, called in by Brent Walker's new management. Mr Walker's solicitor, Michael Coleman, said his client had cooperated completely with the SFO investigation. 'Mr Walker denies involvement with any dishonesty. He and his family are disappointed that the charges have been brought against him.'

Mr Walker was arrested just before 9am yesterday after he walked into Holborn police station by prior arrangement with the Metropolitan Police - a marked contrast to the detention of Robert Maxwell's son Kevin in a televised raid last year.

George Walker's appearance in court is the latest milestone in a varied career that has included spells as a fish porter and light- heavyweight boxer. The son of a drayman, he was pulled into aristocratic circles when his daughter Sarah married the Marquess of Milford Haven in 1989. He still sees double from a blow struck during a British title fight in 1953 which led to his his retirement from the ring. He then managed Billy Walker's boxing career.

He took his business interests public in 1974 and developed the Brent Cross shopping centre in north London, first of a new generation of suburban malls. During the late 1980s he was the consummate deal- maker, embarking on ever more ambitious acquisitions, culminating in the William Hill chain of betting shops.

Mr Walker was charged on two counts under Section 1 of the Theft Act with stealing pounds 7.5m in May 1989 and a further pounds 5m in August 1989 from Brent Walker's bank account at Standard Chartered's City branch.

Mr Walker and Mr Aquilina were both charged with falsifying Brent Walker's December 1989 balance sheet and supplying auditors with misleading documents.

Mr Aquilina's bail was set at pounds 100,000 and his passport confiscated. But Mr Walker was allowed to keep his, to 'carry on making his living by travelling the world'. He recently signed a dollars 800m ( pounds 540m) contract for a Greek development project and set up a cigarette importing business in Russia.

(Photograph omitted)