Potato suppliers scammed Sainsbury's out of millions

 

A director of a major potato firm who bribed a supermarket buyer with millions of pounds to secure huge overcharged contracts has been found guilty of corruption.

Andrew Behagg, a 60-year-old finance director at food supplier Greenvale, faces a heavy prison sentence for passing on brown envelopes full of cash to a buyer who spent the money on lavish holidays – running up a £200,000 bill at the luxury hotel Claridge’s and spending £350,000 on a 12-day trip to Monaco for the Grand Prix.

The swindle was only uncovered when a fellow employee at Greenvale became suspicious after being asked to withdraw £5,000 in £50 notes from a small bank branch.

The money was going to John Maylam, who approved orders of potatoes that saw Sainsbury’s overcharged by £8.7m. Much of the sum was paid into a Luxembourg bank account to subsidise Maylam’s expenses.

Behagg, who denied the crime and claimed he was the victim of extortion, said during his trial that Greenvale was contracted to supply almost half of Sainsbury’s British potatoes, on a £40m annual deal during the two-year scam between 2006 and 2008. The company supplies 600,000 tonnes of potatoes a year – 10 per cent of Britain’s crop.

Maylam, 44, pleaded guilty to corruption together with Greenvale's account manager David Baxter, 50. They were arrested after one of the firm’s accountants, Simon Forster, raised his concerns with an external auditor. Mr Forster told Croydon Crown Court that he had to call the local bank in Chatteris, Cambridgeshire, to arrange to pick up the cash in advance because usually they did not stock enough £50 notes.

All three men will be sentenced on 22 June. Judge Nicholas Ainley said yesterday: "For any case of this magnitude a sentence of imprisonment is almost inevitably passed, and a significant one at that."

The fraud was described as “corruption on a massive scale” by the Crown Prosecution Service.

“Today's message is clear: there is no place for corruption in British business,” said Sue Patten, head of the CPS Central Fraud Group. “It attacks fair competitive practices and undermines our international reputation. This case demonstrates a clear distinction between reasonable business hospitality and that which is criminally corrupt.”

Produce Investments, the owners of Greenvale, said: "We instigated this investigation and have since then introduced new procedures to make sure that such abuse can never happen again.

"Our relationship with Sainsbury's is now on a footing as before and we continue to be one of the largest suppliers of potatoes to shoppers all over the country."

A Sainsbury's spokesman said: "This was an unacceptable and calculated crime against Sainsbury's of a magnitude never experienced in our history.

"We are pleased that justice has been done with today's verdict and we would like to thank the police for their thorough investigation that led to the conviction of John Maylam and David Baxter in 2011 and Andrew Behagg today.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project