FORMER Leeds United director Simon Morris hid £1.5m of cash and gold bullion in Swiss bank accounts in a bid to give creditors the “run around” as his property empire collapsed, a court heard.
The disgraced property tycoon was yesterday handed a suspended prison sentence after pleading guilty to two offences under the Insolvency Act.
Morris, 35, squirrelled away vast sums of cash in offshore accounts as bankruptcy loomed.
Newcastle Crown Court heard Morris faced a financial “nightmare” when the property market began to collapse and the Bank of Ireland began to call in debts of £2.6m over their concerns about the way he operated.
Investigations revealed the Leeds-born entrepreneur re-mortgaged properties and gave away cash to business associates and family members in a bid to deceive creditors and the official receiver.
Morris, formerly of Ling Lane, Scarcroft, Leeds, pleaded guilty to an offence of fraudulently failing to declare eight one kilogram bars of gold and Credit Suisse Bank accounts to creditors.
He also admitted a charge of failing to disclose property to the official receiver between October 8, 2009 and December 14, 2010.
A day before yesterday’s hearing, Morris signed a form agreeing to pay £500,000 to the trustee of bankruptcy.
Simon Batiste, prosecuting, said Morris’s creditors were prepared to accept the amount, meaning they will receive between 1p and 2p in the pound of the money he owes.
Morris, who now lives in Ilford, Essex, was given a 20-month prison sentence, suspended for two years. He was also placed on an electronically monitored curfew, between the hours of 8.30pm and 5am, for four months, and ordered to do 200 hours unpaid work.
The court heard he signed statements declaring he held no assets anywhere in the world despite being the holder of six Swiss bank accounts.
A bankruptcy trustee eventually learned that, in May 2008, Morris had transferred £727,979 into a Credit Suisse account from re mortgaging his main house in Leeds.
This account also had £561,901 paid into it from the sale of another property. In February 2009 Morris deposited eight gold bars. At the time they were each worth US$31,000.
Simon Batiste, prosecuting, told the court the Bank of Ireland had put 12 of Morris’s companies into administration in October 2008.
“It is clear from this date Mr Morris would have realised that his personal financial position was hopeless,” he said.
“It is the prosecution’s case that he therefore made a concerted effort to hide his assets from the relevant authorities.”
The prosecutor said Morris signed false declarations, first to his creditors as he sought to enter into an Individual Voluntary Arrangement with them and then to the official receiver as he was made redundant.
Sentencing Morris, judge Bryan Forster, QC, said “Following the collapse of your empire you had little.
“It is clear to me that what you have done in this case is to try and hold on to as much as you could, probably for the purpose of trying to maintain a reasonable lifestyle for your family and, I suspect, in the hope that you would be able to start up a business in the future.”
Morris was jailed for 18 months in September 2011 after being found guilty of a £100,000 blackmail plot of his ex-business partner Hedley Manton.
Morris sent his 21-stone bodyguard Johnathon Ashworth to Mr Manton’s offices in Headingley, Leeds, in March 2009 and stab threats were made unless he parted with the six-figure sum.
He made the threats as he faced financial ruin when his £80m property empire was collapsing around him.