PADDY ASHDOWN, leader of the Liberal Democrats, was one of a group of public figures who provided character references for Nazmu Virani, the former chairman of Control Securities, as an Old Bailey judge jailed Virani for two and a half years yesterday.
Mr Justice Hutchison said yesterday he would have given Virani a significantly heavier sentence but for the 'elegant and useful' mitigation speech by the defence counsel, Anthony Scrivener QC.
Virani, looking tired and depressed, was sentenced by Mr Justice Hutchison a week after being found guilty of helping Bank of Credit and Commerce International to deceive its auditors over the bank's disastrous finances.
The judge said he changed his mind on Virani's sentence yesterday morning after hearing Mr Scrivener's hour-long speech, during which the QC read out letters of support for Virani from leading public figures such as Mr Ashdown, and produced two witnesses who vouchsafed Virani's good character.
Virani was convicted of six charges of providing false information to Price Waterhouse, BCCI's auditor, and one charge of false accounting. He was acquitted of one conspiracy charge.
The jury was unable to decide last week on four charges of furnishing false information, which were ordered to lie on the file.
Mr Scrivener said this showed that even if Virani had not provided the false information that he did, it did not necessarily follow that the authorities would have unearthed the bigger BCCI frauds earlier than they did. The judge accepted this point, but said that nevertheless there was still a possibility that Virani's bogus information may have been the 'brick in the wall which kept the edifice standing for longer than it might have done.'
The judge decided not to award costs against Virani since the former businessman already owed millions to the liquidators of BCCI, despite having pounds 3.6m in Swiss bank accounts. The Serious Fraud Office said its costs were pounds 2.2m, half of which had been paid to external accountants.
The judge refused to disqualify Virani as a director, saying society would be best served if he restarted his business life after jail. Virani's defence said he intended to appeal.
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