Detectives are investigating a suspected plot to steal nearly £1m from an account belonging to the restaurateur and designer Sir Terence Conran at one of Britain's biggest banks.
Nine people have so far been arrested during an inquiry into the suspected scam, centred on an Abbey National office in Bradford.
Large sums are believed to have been transferred from Sir Terence's account to two virtually empty ones in Kidderminster, Worcestershire, in 15 minutes early one morning using a computer at a bank administration centre in West Yorkshire.
The large rise in assets in the accounts that had lain largely dormant for several years is believed to have triggered the bank and police investigation. The money is understood to have been restored to Sir Terence's account.
West Mercia police yesterday confirmed that since December its economic crime unit had been investigating the transfer of large amounts into Abbey National accounts in Kidderminster.
Two men and seven women have been questioned over conspiracy to defraud and theft before being bailed. No one has yet been charged. "The investigation is at an early stage and we wouldn't talk about a victim," a West Mercia police spokesman said yesterday.
A spokesman for the Conran Group confirmed there had been a suspected theft but declined to comment further about the case yesterday.
Sir Terence, the founder of Habitat, was last year ranked 375th on the Sunday Times Rich List with an estimated fortune of £95m from his empire of shops and restaurants. He was unavailable for comment yesterday.
One of those arrested during the inquiry was a temporary worker at the Bradford office, who was questioned last month after turning up for his eighth day at work as a minor clerk.
Greg Brauns, 31, a musician, said: "I was taken to the police station. They wouldn't tell me any details. They just said it was a fraud involving £1m. I heard Terence Conran's name mentioned as they were booking me in."
He said that he was shown a printout by officers during questioning that indicated his user name and password had been used to make the transfers in the 15 minutes before 7am in early December.
He said they were for nine sums of £99,999, one of £60,000 and another of £20,000. The Yorkshire Post reported yesterday that there were attempts to divert a further £9m but the bank declined to comment.
Mr Brauns, who denies his involvement with the scam, said he was told that one of the Kidderminster accounts had only £8 before the transactions. "I was told these accounts had been pretty much empty for two or three years, then they had just short of half a million each.
"Then they traced the transaction and it came up with my password and user name," he said.
"It was bad enough being in there in the first place. It was just a bit of temporary work and it was really bad work without all this happening," he said.
He said he had not been in the building at the time of the transfers. He has been bailed to 21 March.
Bank sources confirmed that its security system had been alerted by the transfer. The plot is thought to have then involved trying to transfer the money on.
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