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Top chef's ex-business partner is fined over company law

A former business partner of Marco Pierre White who is one of Soho's biggest landlords was fined £200,000 yesterday for illegally running companies.

Oscar Owide used his son and a senior employee as frontmen "flagrantly" to breach a court order and continue managing his lucrative concerns in the West End of London.

Owide, 72, a former East End hairdresser, built his reputation over three decades running restaurants, lap-dancing clubs and hostess bars. In the 1960s, stars, politicians and aristocrats frequented his West End nightclubs.

In 2002, Owide wanted to make his businesses respectable and house them in upmarket venues. In partnership with Mr White and the club owner Piers Adam, he turned the Stork Club and the Crazy Horse in Swallow Street, cental London into a club called the Stork Rooms, but it closed after six months.

Government investigators had meanwhile been alerted to the fact that he was running businesses despite past convictions, including an 18-month prison term for VAT fraud in 1989 and a court order not to serve as a director after being struck off in February 2000.

On Monday, Owide pleaded guilty at Blackfriars Crown Court to four offences under the Company Directors Disqualification Act.

The court heard that Owide had continued to pull the strings behind the scenes. He dealt with lawyers, hired auditors, and arranged business meetings.

James Pavry, prosecuting, told the court that Owide had been banned from running any companies in February 2000. because he had failed to keep financial records for a company which subsequently went into voluntary liquidation with £500,000 debts.

Despite the order, the defendantspent the next two-and-a-half years managing his business interests on a "day-to-day" basis, the court heard. "This was a wilful defiance of the law, rather than acting in ignorance of it," counsel said.

Prosecutors said Owide persuaded Giuseppe De Wilde, the general manager of Bentley's Seafood Restaurant, to become director of Pearldan Ltd, the company behind the restaurant. Owide's son, Daniel, was appointed director of three other concerns, although Mr De Wilde later took over those posts as well.

Mr Pavry said: "But while the defendant had resigned from his directorships he continued to be concerned in these companies. His involvement was extensive. He continued to make important decisions relating to the financial affairs of the companies."

DTI investigators discovered that Owide at one stage negotiated a £3,000 a week charge from Pearldan to its parent company, which also remained under his control. As a result £232,000, including rent, was handed over. Mr Pavry said the businessman also played a central role in an agreement under which Mr White and Mr Adam would help to redevelop two ailing Regent Street nightspots that he owned.

"Mr White thought it expedient to do so, although as a restaurateur and not a night club owner he was not so much interested in acquiring the premises as he was in acquiring the prestigious Bentley's sea food restaurant [nearby]," counsel told the court.

The partnership was short lived, with Mr White later telling the DTI he had never suspected the defendant had been disqualified as a director.

Passing sentence yesterday Judge Samuels said: "This is a flagrant breach of the order ... [that] requires no elaboration at all and normally in cases of so flagrant a breach a court necessarily has to consider the imposition of a custodial sentence."

But he decided against this, because of Owide's age, poor state of health and his guilty plea. Owide, of St John's Wood, north-west London, who also owns properties in Spain, was fined £50,000 on each of the four offences he had admitted. He will also have to pay £30,000 costs and face a further eight years' disqualification.