A DIRECTOR of a potato firm is facing a lengthy jail term after paying bribes to a supermarket buyer.
Andrew Behagg (60), a director of potato supplying giant Greenvale, authorised payments of thousands of pounds in brown envelopes in return for lucrative contracts worth millions.
A probe into the payments found that Sainsbury’s was overcharged by a total of £3.8 million by the potato supplier.
The extra money went into an account, some of which was channelled to Sainsbury’s buyer John Maylam.
Maylam would incur “expenses” of £20,000 a month, spending the cash on expensive restaurants and exclusive London hotels including Claridge’s and The Dorchester.
Yesterday (Tuesday) Behagg, from Chatteris, was found guilty of corruption at Croydon Crown Court.
Maylam and Greenvale’s account manager David Baxter have also both admitted corruption.
Judge Nicholas Ainley said: “For any case of this magnitude a sentence of imprisonment is almost inevitably passed and a significant one at that.”
The crime was uncovered when a Greenvale employee grew suspicious when he was asked to withdraw £5,000 bundles in £50 notes from a bank in Chatteris.
Jurors heard Simon Forster, a financial accountant, investigated and found payments were being entered into Greenvale’s financial system as “entertaining” expenses and then written off as “raw materials” or storage costs for potatoes at fictitious firms in Spain and the UK.
Mr Forster said that when he raised the payments with Behagg - one of the signatories of the account used to withdraw the cash - he was told they were “rebates” and part of a “scheme”.
He said he was later asked to create a specific account to record other electronic payments so they went through a “different track” of the system.
Following yesterday’s verdict, Produce Investments, the owners of Greenvale, said: “We instigated this investigation and have since then introduced new procedures to make sure that such abuse can never happen again.
“Our relationship with Sainsbury’s is now on a footing as before and we continue to be one of the largest suppliers of potatoes to shoppers all over the country.”
A Sainsbury’s spokesman added: “This was an unacceptable and calculated crime against Sainsbury’s of a magnitude never experienced in our history.”
Maylam, (44), of Bearstead, Maidstone, Kent, who earned millions through the scheme, and Baxter, (50), of Hinstock, Market Drayton, Shropshire, were arrested after the company’s external auditor was alerted. All three are expected to be sentenced on June 22.