Belfast Telegraph

Home News UK

Ex-JJB chief faces £1m fraud trial

The former chief executive of sports goods company JJB Sports has gone on trial in connection with an alleged £1 million fraud in relation to contracts.

Christopher Ronnie, 52, from Wilmslow, Cheshire, is accused of receiving three payments from two sporting goods companies and failing to declare them to JJB's board of directors.

Southwark Crown Court heard that he used the proceeds of some of the payments, which were hidden by being tied up in genuine business deals, to buy property in Florida.

Opening the prosecution, which is being brought by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), Miranda Moore QC also said that Ronnie and a second defendant, David Ball, had falsified information about his assets and liabilities over loans he owed to an Icelandic Bank from when he bought shares in JJB Sports.

Ball and a third man, David Barrington - who both worked for two firms supplying stock to JJB Sports - are also accused of covering up a series of emails relating to the loans.

Miss Moore told the court the pair later asked a computer engineer to wipe any trace of the emails, but he was so concerned about what he found he kept a copy for himself and contacted the SFO.

She said: "The allegation is that during the period of his tenure he or his company, Seacroft Management Ltd, received three payments totalling just over £1 million.

"It is how he came to receive those payments, why, what they represented and whether there is a link, as we say there is, to what was going on at the time that we are going to have to consider."

Miss Moore told the court Ronnie's company Seacroft received a payment of £650,000 in February 2008 from Performance Brands, a sports goods supplier Ball and Barrington were both associated with.

In June that year he was said to have received money from a second supplier the pair were linked to, Fashion and Sport, a payment of 380,000 US dollars, about £197,000.

A third payment, again from Fashion and Sport, was allegedly made to Ronnie in November 2008, this time of 250,000 US dollars, about £134,000.

Miss Moore told the court that at the time of the payments, both Performance Brands and Fashion and Sport were involved in business deals with JJB Sports.

She said: "It is the Crown's case that the payments that went over to Mr Ronnie were connected to transactions between JJB Sports and the companies related to the other two defendants at the time.

"If there hadn't been these transactions between JJB and Performance Brands and Fashion and Sport they wouldn't have had the money to be able to give the money to Mr Ronnie."

She added: "We say he (Ronnie) had an interest that he should have disclosed to his board, and he failed to do so...

"You will see a number of opportunities that he had to tell the board of directors about it.

"He didn't take that opportunity because he wanted to keep the money for himself."

Ronnie, who was JJB Sports chief executive between August 2007 and March 2009, is charged with three counts of fraud in relation to failing to disclose interests in contracts entered into by the JJB Sports.

He is also charged with two money laundering offences and two counts of furnishing false information.

Ball, 54, from Sutton, Surrey, an accountant and supplier to JJB, is charged with three offences of furnishing false information and two counts of perverting the course of justice.

His business partner, David Barrington, 52, from Sale, Cheshire, is charged with two counts of perverting the course of justice.

All three men deny each of the charges against them. The trial is expected to last up to eight weeks.

Miss Moore told the court the three payments Ronnie failed to disclose were related to genuine business deals JJB Sports carried out, related to the acquisition of the Travel Fox sports shoe and luggage brand in Europe and America and to the supply of stock from Fashion and Sport.

Yet despite having numerous opportunities to disclose the payments to the JJB Sports board, he never did, Miss Moore claimed.

She said: "Mr Ronnie doesn't say, 'gentlemen, I'd just like you to know that within the week or so that I was doing the deal with JJB, that my wife and I received £197,000 from the very people we are buying Travel Fox from'."

The court heard Ronnie owed £11 million to Icelandic bank Kaupthing Singer Friedlander, and had an agreement that he would provide it with documents about loans and assets.

But prosecutors claim he provided false documents of details of two loans to him from Fashion and Sport, totalling almost £350,000.

One document, from June 12 2008 purported to show it was a loan for £197,000 to Ronnie and his wife for property in Florida, the court heard.

But Miss Moore said it could not have been signed by the two signatories that day as they were on different continents at the time.

She added: "This document could not have been created on June 12 2008 unless the maker was clairvoyant."

She also said the loan was created in relation to a property at a particular address in Florida.

But the couple did not actually enter into negotiations for that address until August, two months later, when the original property they were interested in fell through, Miss Moore said.

The SFO has been investigating the case since 2009.

The trial continues tomorrow.

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph