A finance director who took almost £8m from TV star Duncan Bannatyne’s gym business after claiming he was exposed to a “culture of undoubtedly corrupt company management” has been jailed for four years and eight months.
Gambling addict Christopher Watson, 46, took huge sums from Bannatyne’s Fitness Limited over a period of years to cover his debts with major betting firms, Teesside Crown Court heard.
The married father-of-three, from Cleveland Avenue, Darlington, admitted one count of fraud, representing him taking £7,974,221 between 2008 and 2014.
He also admitted five counts of transferring criminal property – representing homes he bought in the Darlington area – with the stolen cash.
Mr Bannatyne, best-known for his role in the Dragons’ Den BBC series, was not in court.
In a statement read out by the prosecution, he said: “I’m absolutely shocked and appalled at the callous actions of Mr Watson.”
The entrepreneur said he had raised the issue of increasing some staff’s pay from the minimum wage level at meetings, but “Chris Watson argued cash flow would not allow it”.
Mr Bannatyne said he refinanced the firm in 2014, and sold freehold land which he had to then rent back, “although it had always been my plan to pass the land along with my companies to my children”.
Andrew West, prosecuting, said the offending was an abuse of trust by the accountant, who worked at the firm’s Darlington head office, “He siphoned off huge amounts of money from corporate accounts to accounts held by him,” the court heard.
Watson made 162 fraudulent transactions from Bannatyne’s Fitness, and used the money to finance his gambling, or to further his own financial interests. The finance director, who was also company secretary at the time, was paid £85,000 a year, plus a “generous bonus scheme”, the court heard.
Hartlepool Mail. 2015. Jail for Director who laundered £8 million while working for Duncan Bannatyne firm. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.hartlepoolmail.co.uk/news/business/jail-for-director-who-laundered-8million-while-working-for-duncan-bannatyne-firm-1-7560753. [Accessed 31 March 16].