Fraudster who fled to Bahrain after stealing £670K from Jersey company is finally jailed

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After fleeing the Island to hide in the middle-eastern state of Bahrain more than a decade ago, Russell Stephen King (60) was yesterday brought to justice when he was jailed for six years by the Royal Court’s Superior Number, which convenes only for the most serious cases.

Commissioner Julian Clyde-Smith, presiding, said the offences were ‘motivated by pure greed’ and warranted a long prison sentence – six months more than had been requested by the Crown.

King, who appeared in court in a wheelchair, laundered a total of £671,000 from the now defunct Belgravia Financial Services Group, of which he was a shadow director, over a three-month period in 2008. Much of the money was then hidden in a complex web of accounts in Switzerland.

He also sold ‘cherished registration plates’ on behalf of his former business partner Duncan Hickman, who helped set up the Belgravia Group in 2004, following his sudden death and kept the money for himself.

King pleaded guilty to five counts of fraudulently converting a total of £740,286 of money belonging to others. He did not react as his sentence was delivered.

Crown Advocate Matthew Jowitt, prosecuting, said King’s motivation was ‘pure greed’. The lawyer said the defendant was a man who was known among staff to enjoy first-class flights around the world, five-star stays at the Ritz-Carlton in Bahrain and at the Dorchester in London, as well as trips to the Island and dinner for his parents at Longueville Manor – all on the financially crippled company’s expenses. Such was Belgravia’s financial peril that the company was struggling to pay its staff’s wages at the time.

Outlining the case, Advocate Jowitt said in May 2008, after Mr Hickman suddenly died following the discovery of a suspected blood clot, King ‘cynically exploited’ the situation to ‘help himself to hundreds of thousands of pounds’.

Advocate Jowitt added: ‘He was able to cynically exploit the death of the only person who in reality would have been able to challenge his conduct and stand up to him.’

The court heard King manipulated a ‘yes-man’ employee to sanction the transfer of the company’s money into the defendant’s personal account. Evidence from King’s former personal assistant described him as a ‘workplace bully’ who instilled ‘fear’ in his staff and reduced the so-called ‘yes man’, who the JEP has chosen not to name, to a ‘nervous wreck’. The man was due to face charges, but they were dropped following King’s guilty plea.

Such was the value of the money taken out of Belgravia, the court heard, that liquidators were left with just £64,000 in the finance firm’s accounts and were only able to pay creditors 4.2 pence for every pound they were owed. Advocate Jowitt said the impact on creditors was huge and added that had King not committed the offences, creditors could have been paid 46p for every pound owed.

Advocate Jowitt said: ‘King had no excuses for his actions. This was not a case of an overworked director in financial extremis who succumbed to a moment of foolish temptation. These offences were gratuitous and committed out of pure greed by a man who had already spent some years living the high life at Belgravia’s expense. The effect on BFSG in terms of what percentage they could be repaid was considerable.’

States police investigators, staff from the Law Officers’ Department and even Met Police detectives worked for six years gathering evidence against King, such was the complexity of the investigation, codenamed Operation Humidor.

Advocate Jowitt said the Crown accepted there had been an ‘inexcusable delay’ in extraditing King from Bahrain. The process started in 2014, but he was not brought back to Jersey until the summer last year.

Advocate Adam Harrison, defending, said his client suffered from debilitating osteoarthritis and argued that a prison term would be much more difficult for him than another defendant as he was often limited to being in his cell and even bed-ridden. King, Advocate Harrison said, also expressed remorse and wrote a letter to the court.

Jurats Charles Blampied, Rozanne Thomas, Pamela Pitman, Robert Christensen and Kim Averty were sitting.

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