JJB chief found guilty of £1m fraud
The former chief executive of JJB Sports has been convicted of accepting more than £1 million in backhanders from suppliers.
Christopher Ronnie, 52, showed no emotion in the dock as he was found guilty of fraud over three six-figure cash payments from companies doing business with the sportswear giant when he was in charge in 2007 and 2008.
Southwark Crown Court in London heard that the payments, some of which were used to buy property in Florida, were not disclosed to the company board by Ronnie, of Wilmslow, Cheshire, who was £11 million in debt to Icelandic banks at the time.
The businessman, who did not give evidence in his own defence, was convicted of three counts of fraud, and two of furnishing false information after a trial lasting more than eight weeks.
It took the jury nearly 35 hours of deliberations to deliver its unanimous guilty verdicts against him.
Ronnie was chief executive of JJB Sports between August 2007 and March 2009.
His co-defendants, business partners David Ball and David Barrington - who both worked for two firms supplying stock to JJB Sports - were convicted today of helping to cover his tracks.
The case, which the Serious Fraud Office had been working on since 2009, centred on three large loans of several hundred thousand pounds each which Ronnie received in 2008.
Jurors heard that Ronnie's company Seacroft received a payment of £650,000 in February 2008 from Performance Brands - a sports goods supplier with which Ball and Barrington were both associated.
In June that year he received 380,000 US dollars (about £197,000) from Fashion and Sport - another supplier the pair were linked to.
A third payment, again from Fashion and Sport, was made to Ronnie later that year, this time of 250,000 US dollars (about £134,000).
The court heard that Ronnie owed £11 million to Icelandic bank Kaupthing Singer Friedlander, and agreed he would provide it with documents about his loans and assets.
But he falsified information about his assets and liabilities over these loans when he bought shares in JJB Sports.
Ball and Barrington also covered up a series of emails relating to the loans.
The court heard that the pair later asked a computer engineer to wipe any trace of the emails, but he was so concerned about what he found that he kept a copy for himself and contacted the SFO.
Ball, 54, from Sutton, Surrey, an accountant and supplier to JJB, was cleared of two counts of furnishing false information.
But he was convicted of two counts of attempting to pervert the course of justice, as was Barrington, 52, from Sale, Cheshire.
The three men were silent and showed no emotion as the verdicts were handed down.
Although jury members were given the option of returning a majority verdict - rather than coming to a consensus - in respect of one false information allegation against Ball, they were unable to reach a verdict.
Ronnie, Ball and Barrington will be sentenced on December 12.
Prosecutors have signalled that as part of his sentence, they will seek to bar Ronnie from sitting as a company director for a period of time.
"I'm granting you bail to give you an opportunity to get your affairs in order," Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith told the men.
He also praised the jurors for their close attention during the weeks-long trial, telling them: "Thank you very much for being the easiest jury I have ever had to look after."