Nissan chief found guilty of Britain's biggest tax fraud

THE MULTI-millionaire former managing director of Nissan UK was convicted yesterday in Britain's biggest fraud trial. Michael Hunt, 59, was found guilty of siphoning off pounds 149.2m of undeclared profits from Nissan UK over nine years and cheating the Inland Revenue out of pounds 56.3m in tax and pounds 36m in interest.

After 15 hours of deliberation the jury of five men and seven women at Southwark Crown Court returned a 10-2 majority verdict convicting Hunt on one count of conspiring to cheat the Inland Revenue between December 1982 and December 1991.

He was cleared of another conspiracy charge and one charge of submitting false accounts. The remaining charge of false accounting was left on file. Hunt was granted conditional bail before appearing on Wednesday for sentencing. As the verdict was announced, Hunt, of Hove, East Sussex, looked stunned and his wife, Shirley, held her head in her hands. They refused to comment before leaving the court with their son and daughter.

The three-month trial, which cost pounds 2.2m, was prompted by the biggest investigation into corporate fraud ever conducted by the Inland Revenue. Peter Rook QC, prosecuting, said Hunt had personally made pounds 30m in the scandal and asked Mr Justice Gatehouse to issue an order confiscating his assets before sentencing. Hunt is thought to have substantial investments in the UK and overseas, including a golf course and a villa in the Spanish resort of Marbella.

The judge said such an order would delay sentencing by weeks and the Inland Revenue could recoup its losses through civil means at a later date. He ordered an immediate freeze of Hunt's business and personal assets.

The prosecution asked for Hunt to be remanded in custody until sentencing but the judge said that during the course of the trial there had been ample time for Hunt to abscond, and on this issue 'he seems to be in my view a reasonable and honourable man, unlikely to jump bail'.

On Wednesday he will be sentenced with Frank Shannon of Brighton, East Sussex, who admitted cheating the Inland Revenue earlier in the trial.

The company's former chief, Octav Botnar, 79, was also named in the charges against Hunt, but he left Britain for Switzerland.

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