Accountant 'killed by professional hitmen': Jury told how businessman became embroiled in international shipping fraud. Malcolm Pithers reports

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AN ACCOUNTANT was assassinated by two professional killers after he had become embroiled in a dollars 40m ( pounds 26.5m) shipping fraud and had spoken to police about it, a jury was told yesterday.

David Wilson, 47, was shot twice in the head in the garage of his home near Chorley, Lancashire, while his family was held captive, Brian Leveson QC, for the prosecution, told Carlisle Crown Court.

The killers arrived at his home after details of the property had been faxed to a man in New York, referred to in court as Hector Portillo, or 'The Colonel'.

One of Mr Wilson's daughters, Michelle, 27, told the court that she had given the man in New York pounds 10,000 in cash and had told United States Customs officers that it was holiday money. In fact, it was to pay for a captain and crew for the ship used in the fraud.

Stephen Schepke, 46, a former art restorer, of Sidcup, south-east London, denies conspiring to murder Mr Wilson and also aiding and abetting the killing. Mr Leveson said that at 8.45pm on 5 March 1992, Michelle Wilson was at home watching television when two gunmen arrived at the house wearing balaclavas.

They at first asked to see her husband and said that he had been 'speaking to the fraud squad'. She explained that she was not married and that her father was not at home. The men tied her up and then waited. When the rest of the family returned they were bound and Mr Wilson was taken outside into the garage and shot.

The rest of the family eventually freed themselves and drove to a telephone box to call a friend, thinking at first that Mr Wilson had been kidnapped. When they returned they found him dead.

Mr Leveson said Mr Schepke had not been responsible for the killing. The two gunmen were highly-paid professional assassins, who were still at large. However, Mr Schepke knew about a shipping deal involving cigarettes and a possible insurance fraud. He played a 'modest but extremely important role' in Mr Wilson's murder, Mr Leveson said. He had communicated with a private investigator and details of Mr Wilson's home had been faxed to the man in New York who had wanted him killed.

A police investigation uncovered an international ring of people that Mr Wilson had been dealing with. The jury also heard details of an international shipping fraud involving individuals in the United States, Venezuela, the Netherlands and England.

Mr Leveson alleged that Mr Schepke had been in debt to his bank for pounds 60,000 and would have received this amount as commission from the shipping deal. He had opened a bank account in Zurich using false names and contacted a Lloyd's of London insurance investigator about the fraud - hoping to obtain a reward if anything went wrong and he did not get his commission.

But although he had spoken to the Lloyd's man between October 1991 and 13 February 1992, mentioning the fraud and the threat to Mr Wilson, from that time in February until Mr Wilson's death in early March, there was silence. At a meeting in October 1991, Mr Schepke had told a Lloyd's official of a plan to ship cigarettes across the Atlantic and then scuttle the vessel, the Lisa Marie, named after one of Mr Wilson's daughters.

At the same time as he had been talking to Lloyd's, however, Mr Schepke had been in constant touch with the man in New York, Mr Leveson said.

Mr Schepke was arrested after the private investigator whom he had hired read of Mr Wilson's killing and recognised him as the man he had been watching.

The hearing continues today.