The jailed former finance director of Duncan Bannatyne’s business empire has been ordered to pay back half a million pounds or face a further three years in prison following a Proceeds of Crime hearing.
Christopher Watson is currently serving four years and eight months after pleading guilty in November to defrauding the celebrity entrepreneur’s group of companies of almost £8m.
The Darlington-based FD submitted doctored invoices and siphoned cash from corporate accounts belonging to Bannatyne Fitness over a period of six years to cover his debts with major betting firms.
Teesside Crown Court has now ruled that Watson must pay £484,338 as compensation to Bannatyne Fitness within three months or face another three years in jail, under Proceeds of Crime legislation aimed at seizing illegally obtained assets and cash from convicted criminals.
Jail sentence of three years ‘may be imposed’
Commenting on the latest decision detective sergeant Thomas Maughan from the North East Regional Asset Recovery Team said: “The order made today means that Mr Watson has to pay £484,338.62 within three months, otherwise a default jail sentence of three years may be imposed.
“After his offending was identified, the North East Regional Fraud Team, alongside our team and Crown Prosecution Service secured his known assets by using a restraint order and this will remain in place until all known assets are realised.
“Very importantly, Bannatyne Fitness Limited will receive compensation to the full value of the confiscation order made today.
“Unlike some forms of compensation this will not be paid monthly at a nominal amount, as Mr Watson’s current financial worth has been calculated and he should therefore pay this within three months.”
Expert analysis: David Winch, AccountingWEB member and proceeds of crime expert
“Since the changes made by the Serious Crime Act 2015 Crown Courts are allowed initially to permit the defendant a maximum of three months to pay a confiscation order. However, the defendant can apply for a further three months if he finds himself unable to pay on time - for example where he has to sell his home.
“In this case it appears that the defendant had lost heavily on spread-betting and gambling. He will be required to realise his assets to make some repayment to the victim of his fraud, but most of the money he stole is gone.
“The court could have set a maximum default sentence of five years in this case; Mr Watson may think himself fortunate that the actual term was set at three years. This means that if he fails to pay the confiscation he may have to spend a further 18 months in prison at the end of his current sentence. In practice, however, it is more likely that his assets will be realised and the order paid off.”