Goldman Sachs secretary 'ran up £4,500 bill on Hollywood jaunt using stolen cash'

A City secretary accused of stealing £4.4m from her bosses spent a fortnight in a luxury Beverly Hills hotel after phoning in sick to claim she needed time to recover from a hysterectomy she had not had, a court heard yesterday.

Joyti De-Laurey, 35, and her husband ran up a bill for almost £4,500 at the Peninsular Hotel in Hollywood which was allegedly paid using funds she had taken from the personal accounts of her employers at the merchant bank Goldman Sachs in London. Prosecutors said the lavish holiday in the summer of 2001 was part of a relentless spending campaign by the personal assistant, which she explained to retailers by saying she was a deal broker.

It is alleged that the money was taken by Mrs De-Laurey, of North Cheam, Surrey, over two years using forged cheques and money transfers while working for three successive managing directors at Goldman Sachs. A jury at Southwark Crown Court in central London was told that Mrs De-Laurey also bought a £29,000 Saab convertible with her 50-year-old husband, Anthony, at about the time of their holiday in California. She denies 21 counts of obtaining money by deception.

Stuart Trimmer, for the prosecution, said: "They ordered extras on the car and gave contact details at a hotel in Beverly Hills. Joyti De-Laurey told Goldman Sachs that during this period she would need sick leave as she was having a hysterectomy."

The court heard that before the holiday Mr De-Laurey, a chauffeur, had given his wife's contact numbers at Goldman Sachs to the car dealership, which offered to arrange for the couple to be picked up for a test drive at her office. Mr Trimmer said: "For obvious reasons, the offer was declined."

Mr De-Laurey and Devi Schahhou, 67, the mother of Mrs De-Laurey, deny helping to launder the money through bank accounts in Cyprus and profiting from the proceeds. The spree, which ended with Mrs De-Laurey's arrest in May 2002 just as she was allegedly planning to flee with her family to her new £675,000 villa in Cyprus, also included spending thousands of pounds in stores such as Harrods, Cartier, Gucci and the bookmakers Ladbrokes, it was claimed. The court was told that when interviewed by police, Mr De-Laurey claimed he had not considered where his wife had obtained the £300,000 of jewellery. Mr Trimmer told the jury: "He said he did not ask his wife where it came from. He was not bothered because she is an Indian woman. Indian women like jewellery."

The trial continues.