Potatoes seem innocent enough, and surely not the target for a multi-million pound fraud that saw three senior businessmen jailed today. However, when you are buying and selling tens of millions of pounds worth of potatoes it's amazing how much can go on under the radar.
So what was the great potato fraud about?
BribesOne of the businessmen was 44 year-old John Maylam, a senior vegetable buyer for Sainsbury's, from Maidstone, Kent, who had spent 20 unblemished years building his career at the grocer. He took a £5 million bribe from a potato supplier, Greenvale, in the form of lavish gifts and luxuries.
One of his fellow fraudsters was John Baxter, a 50 year old director of Greenvale from Market Drayton, Shropshire. Greenvale supplies around 50% of the supermarket's potatoes. He massively overcharged Sainsbury's for the crop in a £40 million annual deal - in collusion with Maylam.
By overcharging, Baxter was able to put the money into a fund that was used to 'thank' Maylam for his business - through two companies set up to disguise the flow of money. The third man appearing in court was Greenvale's finance director Andrew Behagg, 60, from Cambridge, who was complicit in the arrangements.
SpendingThe money that was siphoned off was used to fund extraordinary spending. Maylam received a £94,000 top-of-the-range Aston Martin V8 Vantage, and took luxury holidays in Monaco and the South of France. There was also a £200,000 bill at Claridges and cash payments stuffed in brown envelopes. These costs were entered into Greenvale's accounting system as 'team building'.
Croydon Crown Court Judge Nicholas Ainley said it was "very nearly as serious a case of corruption as I can imagine".
Baxter and Maylam pleaded guilty, but Behagg denied the charge of corruption, claiming 'extortion'. The court found him guilty.
SentencedDetective Superintendent Tony Crampton, of the City of London Police said: "Maylam and Baxter both had good jobs with decent salaries. But they decided they wanted a place on millionaire's row so they cooked up an elaborate fraud that saw them divert seven figure sums from their employers' accounts," he said.
"They were greedy for a luxury lifestyle, frittering the money away on frivolous spending which was only made possible by Behagg's complicity."