Cars, jewellery, and a villa: was this the shopping list of a bank PA accused of stealing £4.4m?

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When Joyti De-Laurey presented her millionaire employers with cheques to sign, they assumed they were to pay domestic bills and she was simplifying their hectic lives as directors of the world's most illustrious merchant bank, Goldman Sachs.

But a jury was told yesterday that, while working as PA to three successive managing directors at Goldman Sachs' London offices, Mrs De-Laurey was in fact conducting a campaign of "dishonesty on an outstanding scale" which allegedly netted her a total of £4.4m - and went unnoticed by her bosses for two years.

Southwark Crown Court heard that the "utterly trusted" personal assistant used simple deceptions to steal from her employers and fund an extravagant lifestyle. Her purchases included luxury cars, a £675,000 villa in Cyprus, a powerboat, designer clothes and more than £300,000 of Cartier jewellery. She is also alleged to have bought property for relatives and paid off a mortgage in her mother's name.

In two allegedly confessional notes, written to "Dear God" and found in her office after her arrest in May 2002, the secretary referred to her "plundering". The alleged theft was carried out against three of Goldman Sachs' most senior figures, including Scott Mead, the bank's telecoms and media broker who was behind one of the biggest mergers in history, the £100bn deal between Vodafone and the German communications giant Mannesmann.

The bank is known for its high-profile role in international finance. When it was floated in 1999, ending 130 years as a private partnership, the 221 partners were said to have acquired shares worth about £50m. Goldman's chief UK economist at the time, Gavyn Davies, was reported to have owned shares worth more than £100m after one day's trading.

It is claimed that Mrs De-Laurey, from Cheam, Surrey, was close to completing a final sting against Mr Mead involving £2.5m and fleeing to Cyprus with her co-defendants - her husband, Anthony, 49, a chauffeur, and her 67-year-old mother, Devi Schahhou, a medical doctor - when her deception was uncovered.

Stuart Trimmer, for the prosecution, said: "To everybody in Goldman Sachs she worked with, Joyti De-Laurey appeared a very patient, very worthwhile employee. In fact, what she was doing was dishonesty on an outstanding scale."

He added: "You will appreciate that the family income was enormously increased and the transfer of some £4m over a span of time did wonders for the family budget. The Crown say her spending was astonishing." Mrs De-Laurey, who denies 21 charges of using cheques and false money transfers to obtain the sums, listened as the court described how she arrived as a temp at the City offices of Goldman Sachs in 1998. She won the confidence of her employers, starting with Jennifer Moses, then a managing director, and her husband Ron Beller, then a partner.

The PA, who is alleged to have taken £1.2m from the couple starting with a cheque for £4,000 in July 2000, was given a permanent post with a bonus which took her annual salary to £42,000 and built a close relationship with Ms Moses, telling her that she had suffered from cancer which was in remission.

The jury was told that behind her image of "competent efficiency", she used two straightforward methods: forging or obtaining signatures on cheques supposedly for domestic expenses, and using faxed requests for money transfers from her victims' personal Goldman Sachs' accounts which she had forged or duped them into signing.

Mrs De-Laurey then sent the requests to the bank's personal wealth management team in New York, which oversaw the financial affairs of senior executives, after first ordering the sale of stocks and shares to ensure that there was sufficient money in the accounts to fund her fraud.

The court was told that the secretary obtained about £500,000 from 76 cheques and a further £4m from money transfers, of which £3.4m was stolen from Mr Mead, for whom she worked between May 2001 and May 2002. The majority of the funds were sent electronically to accounts opened by Mrs De-Laurey, her husband and mother at the Bank of Cyprus in Paphos, it is claimed.

Such was the intense nature of corporate life at Goldman Sachs and the trust invested in personal assistants that Ms Moses and Mr Beller, who left the bank early in 2001, did not notice the £1.2m had gone missing from their accounts until the fraud against Mr Mead was discovered, the court heard.

Mr Trimmer said: "Joyti De-Laurey carried out numerous day-to-day jobs for Jennifer Moses. This job is highly pressured and involved complete personal trust of the defendant. She had Ms Moses' cheque books and would write out cheques as the bills came in, leaving Ms Moses only to sign them."

He added: "She was able to escape detection partially because of the vast gulf between her behaviour and trusted status on the one hand and her planned dishonesty on such a scale on the other." A similar level of "utter trust" had allowed her to steal from Mr Mead by adding additional pages to the money transfer faxes or using e-mails to order the sale of investments, the court heard.

An insight into Mrs De-Laurey's state of mind during the thefts could be found in two "bizarre" notes found in her office, Mr Trimmer said. One of the prayers read: "Dear God ... Please protect me. I have only to secure another 40 and I'm done as far as the GS [Goldman Sachs] are concerned. Please ensure they haven't discovered Tasha etc."

The jury was told that Tasha was a false bank account set up by the secretary in the name of Tasha King. In the second note, Mrs De-Laurey said: "I need one more helping of what's mine upon my return and then I must cut down and cease all the plundering. Please ensure my job is safe and my integrity is unquestioned on my return."

The prosecution said that the spending spree had focused on acquiring the trappings of wealth enjoyed by the super-rich with the knowledge and assistance of Mr De-Laurey, a City chauffeur, and Dr Schahhou.

Among the items bought was a Saab convertible, and a VW Golf as well as dozens of items of jewellery from Cartier, it was claimed. A deposit was also paid for a £175,000 Austin Martin V12 Vanquish and an advance payment of €150,000 was laid down on a Jeannau Prestige speed boat to be delivered to Cyprus.

Using money transferred through her mother, the £675,000 villa in Cyprus, including a brand new Range Rover, was also purchased, the court was told. Mr De-Laurey and Dr Schahhou, from Camden, north London, deny charges of laundering the money through bank accounts in their names and profiting from the proceeds of the thefts.

But Mr Trimmer said: "Joyti De-Laurey's new wealth was conspicuous wealth. She relished the prospect of spending huge sums of money on Cartier, buying villas, buying cars, buying the things that are attractive to somebody who has considerable wealth.

"Plainly, those who knew her - her husband and mother - knew her real situation and we say knew she had no legitimate means of acquiring wealth on the scale of £4.4m ... They were the channels through which the stolen money passed."

The court heard the alleged scam was discovered in May 2002 when Mr Mead wanted to make a charitable donation and discovered a six-figure transfer to one of the Bank of Cyprus accounts. It is claimed the discovery came just as Mrs De-Laurey and her family were about to flee to Cyprus permanently after making one last, huge transfer of £2.5m from Mr Mead's bank account in January 2002 to buy the villa and set up an investment fund to provide them with enough money to live.

Mr Trimmer said: "By the time she was discovered, Mrs De-Laurey was on the point of leaving to go to Cyprus.

Her husband had told his employers that they intended to go to Cyprus "due to a change in family circumstances". The trial, which is likely to last eight weeks, continues.

THE ALLEGED SPENDING SPREE

Villa Alma, Cyprus. £675,000. Price included a new Range Rover spotted in the garage and bought on the spot by Mrs De-Laurey.

Saab Convertible with extras. List price £27,900.

Chrysler Grand Voyager people carrier. List price £30,800.

Aston Martin V12 Vanquish. Deposit paid. List price £175,000.

VW Golf. List price £14,000.

Jeannau Prestige 36 Powerboat (below), ordered from UK for delivery to Cyprus. Deposit paid of 150,000 euros. Total price 208,000 euros.

Jewellery from Cartier, London. £300,000.

Mortgage on the north London home of Dr Devi Schahhou.