"it was a very calculated and deliberate decision"
Accountant Asha Patel, aged 42, of North London, was jailed for two-and-a-half years after she stole almost £560,000 from the company which makes HP Sauce.
She abused her position at Westmill Foods by paying invoices into her own bank account, using the money to boost her own food business.
Westmill Foods is part of Associated British Foods plc. Some of its brands include Lea & Perrins sauce and Patak’s.
Patel joined the company in 2011 and stole a total of £559,822 between 2017 and 2019 when she departed due to poor performance.
Sahil Sinha, prosecuting, said Patel was in charge of settling invoices from suppliers and repeatedly inputted her own bank account details to steal the funds.
In May 2019, Patel was offered a settlement to leave the company, but she chose to work her full three-month notice period when she made the final five fraudulent payments to herself, totalling more than £300,000.
Mr Sinha said: “It may be it was a very calculated and deliberate decision to work her notice period to fraudulently obtain more funds.”
Patel made the final fraudulent payment after leaving the job when she offered to help her replacement, a relative, to understand the payment system.
The accountant was busted after she left the company when a supplier complained about not being paid.
On the discovery of the fraud, Mr Sinha said:
“Other employees were involved by this defendant, not knowingly, but used to submit documentation.
“In one case a colleague lost their job and was subjected to a police investigation and interview.”
Wood Green Crown Court heard that almost all of the stolen money was invested into Patel’s own struggling food supplier, Yuwi Ltd.
The accountant said she felt under pressure from her business partner to continue investing in the struggling firm and was “unable to control the spiralling situation she found herself in”.
Patel admitted 16 counts of fraud by abuse of position. She blamed it on an increasing “spiral” of financial woes at her own business.
Westmill has already taken civil action to recover nearly £800,000 from Patel in stolen funds, interest and costs.
Judge John Dodd QC told her:
“Over a two-year period, you systematically cheated your employer by stealing some £560,000.”
“You used it to support your own business, one that has since failed, and you did so in my judgment cynically and in a determined manner.
“The most likely explanation why you, a woman of good character with many advantages, did what you did was a simple one: greed.”
Patel was jailed for two-and-a-half years.
Her sentence was reduced after it was heard that she is the primary carer for her children and was recently diagnosed with diabetes.