THE Co-operative Group is to sue Andrew Regan for over £ 10 million damages after the Monaco-based entrepreneur was cleared at Snaresbrook Crown Court, East London, of masterminding a £ 2.4 million theft and bribery scandal.
The 37-year-old City figure – well known in Co-op circles for leading the abortive takeover bid of CWS in 1997 – was accused of stealing the money from his company, Hobson Holdings, to bankroll a shady trade-off; ensure the extension of a lucrative food supply contract to CWS and protect his wealth.
The prosecution, brought by the Serious Fraud Office, claimed he used most of the cash to bribe two corrupt former CWS executives, Allan Green and David Chambers, who helped push through the deal.
The court was told that the rest of the money financed a `laundering` operation to get the £ 1 million payments into their pockets without arousing suspicion, before Mr Regan launched an elaborate `cover-up` to hide what he had done.
But Mr Regan insisted he was the victim of a dishonest Dutch businessman, Ronald Zimet, who was granted immunity from prosecution.
Mr Regan, who previously faced two other juries on the theft charges, sighed and clasped his arms as he was finally cleared of the allegation.
The jury of eight women and three men had spent 11 hours and 44 minutes considering its verdict after being sent out at Monday lunchtime.
Judge David Radford said: `I am minded to order that he should have his costs for this court and the court below.`
Following his acquittal, the millionaire businessman said in a statement: `I have always maintained my innocence and so I am delighted to have been vindicated by the jury. The last six years have been an extremely testing time for my family, friends, business colleagues, advisers and me. This verdict, although a long time coming, is a great relief to us all.`
The Crown said the alleged theft came to light following the collapse of the hostile takeover bid for CWS.
However announcing the Co-operative Group's decision to pursue civil action against Mr Regan to recover sums owing following the renegotiation of the Hobsons supply agreement and also sue jailed former employees Green and Chambers, Group Secretary Nick Eyre described the jury's verdict as a "travesty of justice."
He said: "It doesn't end here. We will proceed with our civil action for damages, which we estimate to be in excess of £ 10 million. The burden of proof is of course different in a civil action, so we are confident of a favourable outcome."