Sainsbury's buyer who got his hands dirty on 'hot' potatoes jailed for £1m scam

Bribes from desperate supplier funded lifestyle of fast cars, fine wines and luxurious hotels

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The Independent Online

He lived the millionaire's dream with an Aston Martin on the driveway and an all-expenses paid trip to the Monaco Grand Prix to mark his 40th birthday. The long list of fine-dining establishments he visited read like a gourmet's tour of London. At Claridge's Hotel he ran up a £200,000 bill.

But yesterday, John Maylam, 45, a potato buyer for Sainsbury's with a taste for the finer things in life, was starting a four-year jail term for corruption after a jury found his wealth was based on a multimillion-pound secret fund set up by a supplier desperate to retain its £40m contract with the supermarket.

David Baxter, 49, a former director of the Greenvale company – and Maylam's key contact within the company – lavished more than £1m entertaining Maylam and joined him so enthusiastically as his drinking partner that he developed cirrhosis of the liver. The two men were part of a six-strong group who jetted to the south of France and Monte Carlo for a £350,000 VIP trip to the motor racing, which involved nights at the five-star Hotel Byblos in St Tropez and other top hotels. The trip was signed off by the company as "team building".

Bundles of cash were handed over in brown envelopes and more than £1m was paid into a bank in Luxembourg to distribute to Maylam and his associates. The perks included a sleek black Aston Martin V8 Vantage, bought for £93,000 and delivered to Maylam.

"When that shiny black Aston Martin was delivered to his house ... Mr Maylam turned white," said his lawyer Nicholas Walker at Croydon Crown Court yesterday. "That Aston Martin became almost totemic of this corruption and it lay in the drive hardly driven because it was a reminder of how far he had sunk."

Baxter was jailed for 30 months and Greenvale's former finance director who signed off on the deals, Andrew Behagg, was jailed for three years. The court heard that they inflated the price of potatoes they sold to the unwitting supermarket to sustain the secret slush fund. However, Judge Nicholas Ainley said yesterday that the bribery may not have been necessary to keep the business. "You abused their trust so that you could lead the life of a very rich man," he told Maylam.

The case shone a light on the powerful role of buyers for supermarkets in negotiating deals with suppliers. The National Farmers' Union has claimed that a "climate of fear" has prevented farmers from complaining for fear of reprisals and losing their business.