Ex-JJB boss avoids extra jail time at 11th hour

The fraudulent former boss of a collapsed Wigan retail empire has managed to avoid an extra five years behind bars.

Wednesday, 22nd June 2016, 8:35 am
Updated Wednesday, 22nd June 2016, 10:38 am
Chris Ronnie

That’s because, at the 11th hour, ex-JJB Sports chief executive Chris Ronnie managed to stump up more than half a million pounds of his ill-gotten gains to the courts.

A Southwark Crown Court judge had already given the 55-year-old extra time to find the cash due after an assessment of his assets. Ronnie was handed a four-year prison sentence and barred from being a company director for eight years after a jury unanimously found him guilty in 2014 of taking about £1m in backhanders and then trying to cover up his crime.

In December, Ronnie was given three months to produce £632,662.31 under pain of getting a five-year extension to his sentence but, as the Wigan Evening Post reported in April, that deadline came and went.

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In May he requested that he be given more time to come up with the cash and this was granted - but only until mid-June. Assets from which Ronnie is thought to have secured his payment under the confiscation order included a home in Wilmslow, Cheshire, which was put on the market several months ago and a 50 per cent share in a house in Marbella.

At the resumption of the hearing, it was agreed that Ronnie would in fact pay a total of £527,484.70 because the house, which assessors had estimated at £170,000 had only been sold for less than £80,000. Ronnie’s defence team will now apply for that amount to be formally recognised and the confiscation order satisfied at a hearing yet to be arranged. A spokesman for the Serious Fraud Office said that it was expected that the amount handed over by Ronnie would be accepted as enough and he would avoid further time in prison.

On his conviction, the judge said Ronnie was guilty of a “very greedy” fraud and had not shown any sign of remorse or even embarrassment.

Ronnie was found guilty of three counts of fraud over three six-figure cash payments made to him by suppliers during his tenure as JJB boss. He also was convicted of two charges of providing false information. The payments to Ronnie, which he partly used to buy a luxury holiday home in Florida that has since been sold, were not disclosed to the JJB board.

Ronnie ran JJB between August 2007 and March 2009, during which time its share price collapsed from more than £2 to less than 3p. JJB never recovered from the period of decline under Ronnie and collapsed in September 2012 with the loss of thousands of jobs. The following month, it was announced that Sports Direct had purchased part of the business, including 20 stores, the brand and its website, for £24m.