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Tesco Scandal - Allegations of Fraud and False Accounting

Back in 2014, the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) commenced a criminal investigation into accounting practices at Tesco in respect of an estimated £326 million missing from the supermarket group’s accounts. Although the investigation is still underway, the SFO has decided to prosecute three former executives in respect of their roles in the scandal. Last week, their trial date was set for next September, when they will each face charges of fraud by abuse of position and false accounting.

In this blog post, we take a look at these two offences and our approach to defending against allegations of serious financial misconduct. At Lewis Nedas Law, our solicitors have been successfully defending clients against allegations of fraud and other financial crimes for over 30 years. We are particularly well-known and respected for our work helping individuals and companies deal with regulatory and criminal business investigations, such as those conducted by the SFO. Our aim is to take action early on, to help mitigate the consequences. For more information on how we may be able to assist you, please contact us.

Fraud by abuse of position

The offence of fraud by abuse of position is one of three classes found in the Fraud Act 2006 (the other two offences being fraud by failing to disclose information (section 3) and fraud by false representation (section 2)). Although it shares some elements with the other two offences, such as the need for dishonesty and an intention to make a gain or inflict a loss, it is a distinct offence that is committed where someone:

  • • occupies a position in which they’re expected to safeguard another’s financial interests, or at least not act against those interests, such as a director in respect of a company or a trustee in respect of a beneficiary;
  • • dishonestly abuses that position, either by act or omission, by failing to safeguard another’s financial interests; and,
  • • intends, by means of that abuse, to: make a gain for themselves or another; or, cause loss or expose another to a risk of loss. This final element, i.e. there being no need for actual loss or gain and the risk being sufficient, is common across all fraud offences.

Because ‘abuse’ is not legally defined in the act, it can cover a wide range of acts or omissions. Further, there is no need for an individual to know that they are in a position where they’re expected to safeguard another’s financial interests – a conviction is highly likely to follow if the prosecution can prove that abuse was dishonest and there was an intention to make a personal gain or cause another loss. If an accused is convicted of fraud by abuse of position, the maximum penalty is imprisonment not exceeding ten years, an unlimited fine or both.

False accounting

The offence of false accounting is found in section 17 of the Theft Act 1968. It is committed where someone:

  • • dishonestly, coupled with a view to gain or with intent to cause another loss;
  • • destroys, defaces, conceals or falsifies any account, record or document made or required for an accounting purpose; or,
  • • furnishes information that produces or makes use of any account, record or document which, to their knowledge, is or may be misleading, false or deceptive.

This offence also covers a wide range of scenarios, including both the act of making a false entry and the omission of material particulars (where the omission may have the effect of significantly misleading), as well as covering someone who does not actually make a false entry or material omission but only concurs with the false entry or material omission. Further, a company will be guilty of the offence if it is committed by an officer of the company whose conduct can be attributed to the company.

Although the act doesn’t shed any light on the required degree of knowledge an accused must have in order to be guilty of the offence, the courts have clarified that the accused must have acted deliberately in making or concurring with a false account, i.e. they knew the account to be false or capable of being misleading. As such, the prosecution does not need to prove that there was an intention for any specific person to be misled. If an accused is convicted of false accounting, the maximum penalty is imprisonment not exceeding seven years.

Our approach to serious fraud defence

Our partner-led Serious Fraud team has vast experience defending complex fraud cases, many with a large international dimension. We employ our experience of working across jurisdictions in all cases being investigated by the SFO. Our multifaceted approach of involving specialist professionals to assist our client’s marks our Serious Fraud team out as a distinctive and progressive law firm that takes special care to protect our clients’ interests. We structure our approach to SFO investigations and prosecutions in a way that insulates our client’s from the majority of the administrative and logistical issues, allowing them to concentrate on working directly with our specialist solicitors to formulate a strategy to deal with the investigation. Find more information on SFO investigation and prosecution defence, and the approach of our pragmatic, practical and effective team here.

Lewis Nedas Law – Specialist Fraud Defence Solicitors London

Lewis Nedas Law have over 30 years’ experience successfully defending clients against fraud prosecutions. We are ranked in Chambers and the Legal 500 for the high quality of our fraud work. Our fraud solicitors are described as 'precise', 'steely determined' and 'always mindful of securing the best outcome for our clients'. Our specialist financial crime & fraud solicitors in the heart of London have extensive experience of preparing successful defences to fraud prosecutions including corporate fraud, whether these are brought by the Crown or a statutory body such as the FCA or the Department of Business innovation and Skills. Please contact Jeffrey Lewis or Siobhain Egan on 020 7387 2032 or contact us online.

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