Ex-Tesco Executives Cleared on Fraud and False Accounting Charges

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LONDON — Two former executives at the supermarket chain Tesco have been acquitted of fraud and false accounting charges after a judge ruled there was not enough evidence for a jury to consider the case against them.

The executives, Christopher Bush, who led Tesco’s British division, and John Scouler, an executive in the same unit, had been charged by Britain’s Serious Fraud Office after a 2014 investigation into accounting irregularities at the grocery chain.

“While I am delighted that my innocence has finally been established, it is troubling that Mr. Scouler and I were ever charged,” Mr. Bush said in a statement. “Put simply, these charges should never have been brought, and serious questions should be asked about the way in which the S.F.O. has conducted this investigation.”

In an emailed statement, the law firm representing Mr. Scouler offered a similar response.

“We have long argued that the S.F.O.’s prosecution of Mr. Scouler was fundamentally flawed, that he should not have been charged and that the S.F.O. should not have proceeded with this trial,” the firm, BCL Solicitors, said in the statement.

The inquiry into Tesco’s accounts covered a period of about seven months in 2014. It was opened after the company announced that it had overstated its profits by more than 250 million pounds (about $320 million at current rates).

At issue was the booking of profits prematurely and delays in logging expenses to pad out results. Tesco said at the time that it did not believe that any of those implicated had benefited personally, but eight executives were suspended and the chairman, Richard Broadbent, was forced to step down.

Tesco accepted responsibility for false accounting practices in March 2017 through a deferred prosecution agreement and agreed to pay a penalty of £129 million. It also agreed to pay an estimated £85 million, plus interest, to compensate investors after a related inquiry by another regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority.

Tesco, which had £51 billion in sales in the financial year that ended Feb. 24, dominates Britain’s supermarket sector, with 28 percent of spending on groceries going to its stores, according to Kantar Worldpanel, a research firm. In recent years, however, it has faced fierce competition from discount stores like Aldi and Lidl, and threats from Amazon and other online retailers.

Another executive, Carl Rogberg, was severed from the trial, and the Serious Fraud Office said it was considering whether to pursue a retrial.

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