Tesco’s former UK finance director has been cleared over a £250 million fraud and false accounting scandal after the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) dropped the case against him.
Carl Rogberg, 52, was accused of knowing that income was being wrongly included in records to meet targets and make the company 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 because it was too “weak”.
Rogberg appeared at the same court on Wednesday, where not guilty verdicts were formally entered on the same two charges after the SFO announced it would offer no evidence against him.
Tesco’s shares plummeted by nearly 12%, wiping £2 billion off the share 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 Mr Rogberg, Neil O’May 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 £129 million 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.”
Mr O’May echoed the sentiment, adding that the DPA “has been shown to be false” and is “deeply prejudicial and distressing” to his client Mr Rogberg.
“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.
Scouler, of The Park, St Albans, Bush, of Four Acres, Green End Road, Radnage, High Wycombe, and Rogberg, of Chiselhampton, Oxfordshire, all denied one count of fraud and another of false accounting.