Belfast Telegraph

Former JJB Sports chief executive jailed for fraud

Four years for businessman found guilty of 'very greedy' £1m deceit

By Kate Ferguson

The former chief executive of JJB Sports has been jailed for four years for pocketing £1m in a "very greedy" fraud.

Christopher Ronnie, aged 52, was £11m in debt to an Icelandic bank when he took money from two suppliers to the sportswear giant.

The Scottish tycoon used some of the cash to splash out on property in the "Sunshine State" of Florida in America.

But when the troubled Icelandic bank tried to recover its cash, Ronnie lied about his assets and liabilities, Southwark Crown Court in London heard.

The charismatic businessman was found guilty last month of fraud over three six-figure cash payments when he was at the helm of JJB Sports in 2008.

Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith said Ronnie had embarked on a "very greedy" fraud and went to great lengths to cover his tracks. He said Ronnie took up his post as chief executive in 2007 which "brought with it enormous responsibility to the employees and the shareholders".

But "within months you were grossly abusing that position by embarking upon a course of conduct which was dishonest in the extreme.

"Over a period of nine months they gave you just under £1m.

"You hid the fact they had paid you those sums because you wanted to keep your position as CEO and keep the money, and spend it as you did, mainly on the house.

"You had to disguise the real reason for the receipt of that money, you went to great lengths to do so."

The judge said Ronnie had tried to bat off the allegations, telling police it was part of a "witch-hunt" against him.

The judge added: "I'm unable to see any sign of remorse or even embarrassment about what you have done.

"This was a flagrant and disgraceful breach of your duty as a CEO of a public limited company.

"This was a particularly vulnerable period in the company's history prior to its collapse."

Business partners David Ball and David Barrington - who worked for the firms which made the loans - were sentenced to 18 months in prison each for helping Ronnie cover his tracks. All three must serve at least half their sentence.

The suited trio all looked relaxed and stared straight ahead with passive expressions as the sentences were read out.

The case against the three men cost the British taxpayer £630,000 - £500,000 on Ronnie's case alone.

The fraud focused on three large loans of several hundred thousand pounds which he received from suppliers, but failed to declare to the JJB board.

Confiscation proceedings to claw back some of the costs of the case are expected to be launched.

Belfast Telegraph