England

JJB Sports boss Christopher Ronnie jailed over £1m fraud

Christopher Ronnie Image copyright PA
Image caption Christopher Ronnie used the six-figure payments from three suppliers to buy property in Florida

The former chief executive of JJB Sports has been jailed for four years for taking £1m of backhanders in a "very greedy fraud".

Christopher Ronnie, 52, of Wilmslow, Cheshire, was found guilty in November of taking bungs from suppliers of the sportswear retailer in 2008.

London's Southwark Crown Court heard he used the six-figure payments to buy property in Florida.

Wigan-based JJB Sports was dissolved with almost £150m of debts in November.

Ronnie's business partners David Ball and David Barrington were also jailed for their parts in the fraud.

Ball, 54, of Sutton in Surrey and Barrington, 52, of Sale in Greater Manchester, were each sentenced to 18 months in prison.

The court heard Ronnie was £11m in debt to Icelandic Bank Kaupthing Singer Friedlander when he took the payments from three suppliers.

He had told the bank he would provide documents about his loans and assets but he falsified the information.

He 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 (£197,000) from another supplier Fashion and Sport, which also had links to the pair.

A third payment, again from Fashion and Sport, was made to Ronnie later in 2008, this time for $250,000 (£134,000).

'Disgraceful breach'

Prosecutor Miranda Moore QC said the trio had been caught due to a "sheer fluke" when an engineer they asked to wipe emails related to the fraud from computers became concerned and contacted the Serious Fraud Office.

Ronnie, who did not give evidence in his own defence, was convicted of three counts of fraud and two of furnishing false information.

Ms Moore said the company had been "going through tough times" when Ronnie took up the role as chief executive but the 52-year-old businessman had been "trusted and hailed as this new and brilliant leader".

Defending, Jim Sturman QC said Ronnie had been going through a "hellishly difficult year" due to the economic crash at the time, which "caught him unawares".

Sentencing Ronnie, Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith said he had shown a "flagrant and disgraceful breach" of his duty as the company's chief executive.

'Elaborate fraud'

He said within months of Ronnie taking up the role, he was "grossly abusing that position by embarking upon a course of conduct which was dishonest in the extreme".

"Over a period of nine months they gave you just under £1m [and] you hid the fact... because you wanted to keep your position and keep the money.

"You had to disguise the real reason for the receipt of that money, you went to great lengths to do so."

Ronnie had tried to bat off the allegations, he said, telling police it was part of a "witch-hunt" against him.

He added that he was "unable to see any sign of remorse or even embarrassment about what you have done".

David Green, director of the Serious Fraud Office (SFO), said: "These defendants contrived to hide information regarding their dealings from both JJB's board of directors and the SFO once its investigation began.

"That the investigation resulted in these convictions, despite such attempts to derail it, reflects the SFO's determination in tackling complex and elaborate fraud."

JJB Sports was founded by former professional footballer Dave Whelan in 1971.

He sold up in 2007 and his shares in the firm were bought by Ronnie, who was chief executive at the firm until March 2009.

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