LONDON (Reuters) – A senior accountant at the centre of a trial of three former Tesco executives did not raise his concerns over a hole in its accounts during his own appraisal, a court heard on Wednesday.
Amit Soni, who is described as a whistleblower by the prosecution in the case, was giving evidence for a sixth day at the trial of Christopher Bush, 51, who was managing director of Tesco UK, Carl Rogberg, 50, who was UK finance director, and John Scouler, 49, who was UK food commercial director.
The three deny any wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty to charges of fraud and false accounting relating to Tesco’s revelation in September 2014 that its group profit forecast had been overstated by 250 million pounds ($330 million), mainly due to booking commercial deals with suppliers too early.
Nicholas Purnell, the barrister representing Rogberg, showed the court documents including Soni’s self assessment from June 2014 in which he emphasised how controls over Tesco’s financial function had been increased, but made no reference to accounting irregularities he said he had become aware of the same month.
“You were becoming clearer in your mind that there had been a misstatement of income but you didn’t raise it as the most important topic you had to consider,” Purnell told the court.
Shortly after saying he had been “pleasantly surprised” to have been given a pay increase in July 2014, Soni briefly broke down in tears in court.
“Technically from an accounting perspective there was nothing wrong with what we were booking. The problem was what was happening in the business process,” he said.
Tesco’s disclosure saw its shares tumble and plunged the company into the worst crisis in its near 100-year history.
Lead prosecutor Sasha Wass last week told the court that all three defendants were well aware that a hole in Tesco’s accounts was “spiralling out of control” in the first half of 2014 but connived to conceal their failure to meet targets.
The trial is expected to last beyond Christmas.
Reporting by James Davey; editing by Alexander Smith