November 28, 2017 / 7:04 PM / 19 days ago

Former Tesco UK finance director did not coerce staff his lawyer says

LONDON (Reuters) - Tesco’s (TSCO.L) former UK finance director Carl Rogberg did not coerce and bully employees to manipulate profit figures in 2014, his lawyer told a London court on Tuesday.

Rogberg, 50, is charged with fraud and false accounting at Britain’s biggest retailer in 2014, along with Christopher Bush, 51, who was managing director of Tesco UK, and John Scouler,49, who was UK food commercial director.

All three deny any wrongdoing and have pleaded not guilty.

At the start of Rogberg’s defense, barrister Nicholas Purnell told the jury at Southwark Crown Court that witnesses presented by the prosecution had not described being directed by Rogberg to act “one way or another”.

“These propositions that the prosecution would set out to show a group of people set out to coerce and bully people into behaving in a particular way are simply not reflected in the evidence that you have heard,” Purnell said.

The case centers on two statements made by Tesco to the stock market in 2014.

In the first Tesco published a trading update on Aug. 29 in which it downgraded its financial guidance. In the second, on Sept. 22, the retailer said it had found a 250 million pound ($332 million) over-statement of its expected profit, mainly due to booking commercial deals with suppliers too early.

The prosecution has alleged that it is the difference between the first and second statements that exposes fraud. It previously told the court the three former Tesco executives abused their positions of trust to encourage the manipulation of profit figures, lied to auditors and misled the stock market.

Purnell told the jury that Amit Soni, a senior Tesco accountant who is described as a whistleblower by the prosecution, did not bring any documentary evidence of his concerns to Rogberg’s attention.

He said Soni was based in Tesco’s Cheshunt office in south east England, while Rogberg was based at Welwyn Garden City - a 30 minute drive away.

    Purnell said Rogberg was in charge of 200-300 people in the UK finance team and was receiving nearly 3,000 financial reports a month when he started his job in 2013.

    The barrister said Tesco’s management was like the “civil service of a medium-sized country.”

    Tesco’s September 2014 disclosure saw its shares tumble and plunged it into the worst crisis in its near 100-year history.

    The forecast profit overstatement, identified three weeks after Dave Lewis took over as chief executive from Phil Clarke, was later raised to 263 million pounds.

    The trial began on Sept. 29 and is expected to last beyond Christmas.

    ($1 = 0.7529 pounds)

    Reporting by James Davey; editing by Alexander Smith

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