Three Ex-Tesco Executives Charged in U.K. Accounting Scandal

(Bloomberg) -- Three former Tesco Plc executives were charged with fraud and false accounting by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office, after a multi-million dollar shortfall discovered two years ago led to a criminal investigation of the grocer’s finances.

Former U.K. chief Chris Bush, Carl Rogberg, the former British finance director, and John Scouler, another one-time executive, were all charged with one count of fraud by abuse of position and one count of false accounting by the U.K. Serious Fraud Office Friday. The alleged activity occurred between February and September 2014.

The SFO started investigating Tesco in 2014 after the grocer said it had overstated profits by an amount which has since spiraled to as much as 326 million pounds ($433 million). Nine senior managers were put on leave, most of whom have since left. The U.K. prosecutor was one of a number of authorities to open an investigation, including the Financial Conduct Authority and the Financial Reporting Council. The FCA closed its probe in light of the SFO case, while the FRC is still investigating the retailer’s auditors at PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP.

A lawyer for Bush said his client was "extremely disappointed by this decision.” 

“He is not guilty and from the outset has cooperated with both Tesco and the SFO,” Ross Dixon, a lawyer for Bush at Hickman & Rose, said in a statement.

Rogberg declined to comment, while Scouler and his lawyer didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. The trio are scheduled to appear in a London court Sept. 22.

Tesco, which has been considered a probable candidate for a settlement agreement with the SFO, said that it was continuing to cooperate with prosecutors.

"The last two years have seen an extensive program of change at Tesco, but given this is an ongoing legal matter, we are unable to provide any further comment at this time," the company said in an e-mailed statement.

The SFO said the investigation into the company remains ongoing.

Bush, 50, spent more than 30 years at Tesco, while the 48-year-old Scouler joined in 2002 and rose to become U.K. commercial director, according to his LinkedIn profile. Rogberg, 49, started in 2007 and became the company’s U.K. finance director in 2013, his LinkedIn profile shows.

Scouler joined TalkTalk Telecom Group Plc after leaving Tesco, but has been put on sabbatical. A spokeswoman for TalkTalk said she couldn’t comment on an investigation unrelated to the company.

A number of executives have been interviewed by the SFO in the course of the probe, including former Chief Executive Officer Philip Clarke and ex-commercial director Kevin Grace. The FRC, the accounting regulator, last month closed an investigation into Tesco’s former Chief Financial Officer, Laurie McIlwee.