Tesco’s former UK finance director has been cleared over a £250m fraud and false accounting scandal after the case against him was dropped.
Carl Rogberg, 52, was accused of knowing that income was being wrongly included in records to meet targets and make the supermarket giant look financially healthier than it was.
His trial was abandoned last year after he suffered a heart attack, and he was too ill to face a retrial alongside ex-managing director Chris Bush, 53, and John Scouler, 50, the former UK food commercial director.
Bush and Scouler were cleared of one count of fraud and another of false accounting last month, after a judge at Southwark Crown Court dismissed the case against them because it was too “weak”.
On Wednesday the same court formally returned not guilty verdicts in Rogberg’s case, after the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) announced it would offer no evidence against him.
Speaking outside the hearing, he said: “It is a huge relief that this day has finally come. While I always had faith that it would, the journey here has not been an easy one. The trial has had enormous consequences on my health and exemplary career, as well as for my wife, my son, my family and my friends.
“As I have always said, I acted honestly at all times. I am happy to be standing here with my name cleared of all the false allegations that have been made against me.”
“I have serious questions for Tesco and the SFO about the way this case has been handled throughout,” he added.
Tesco’s shares plummeted by nearly 12%, wiping £2bn off their value, when the company announced in September 2014 that a statement the previous month had overstated profits by about a quarter-of-a-billion pounds.
Rogberg’s acquittal means neither Tesco nor any of its executives have been successfully prosecuted over one of the biggest corporate scandals in recent history.
Acting for Rogberg, Neil O’May, of lawyers of Norton Rose Fulbright, said: “This is more than simply an acquittal by a jury. It is a finding that there was insufficient evidence on which the case could have been brought. This is unprecedented in high-profile serious fraud cases.
“There must be real concern that a serious fraud case is brought without the SFO having expert accounting evidence in which to understand the nature of the case.
“There was also no real investigation undertaken to show whether or not there was indeed fraudulent activity as alleged at the level of buyers and suppliers.”
Details of a deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) between Tesco and the SFO can now be reported after restrictions lapsed automatically following the end of the criminal proceedings.
As part of the agreement, which is expected to be published by the SFO on Wednesday, Tesco agreed to pay a fine of £129m, but avoided a trial.
Lawyers for the acquitted defendants had argued it was unfair to publish the “statement of facts” contained in the agreement, which “ascribes wrongdoing to them”, according to a High Court ruling made last week by Sir Brian Leveson.
Speaking after the end of the criminal case, Bush’s solicitor Ross Dixon said the case “sounds an alarm call” for the criminal justice system with “contradictory outcomes” between the criminal trial and the DPA.
“The trial of my client Chris Bush and of John Scouler exposed the SFO’s failure to investigate with proper rigour the case against these men,” he said.
“As a consequence, they were rightly acquitted by a judge who concluded that the case against them was too weak to put to a jury.
“Today the SFO correctly offered no evidence against the third defendant Carl Rogberg.
“But despite being acquitted of all wrongdoing – and as a direct result of the DPA – the SFO now publishes a statement that in effect contradicts these not guilty verdicts.
“This is an unfair and extraordinary outcome and one that calls for urgent reform of the DPA process.”
O’May echoed the sentiment, adding that the DPA “has been shown to be false” and ws “deeply prejudicial and distressing” to his client.
“Mr Rogberg feels the law has let him down. He believes the DPA was agreed for commercial purposes and throws justice and the truth to the wind, and him with it,” he said.