Trio jailed over potato scam that cost store giant £9m

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Three men were jailed yesterday for a scam that saw Sainsbury’s overcharged by nearly £9m.

Andrew Behagg, a former finance director at potato supplier Greenvale, and former Greenvale director David Baxter showered Sainsbury’s potato buyer John Maylam with gifts and hospitality in return for lucrative contracts with the supermarket.

Maylam, 45, of Bearsted, Maidstone, Kent, who admitted corruption and acquiring criminal property, was jailed for four years at Croydon Crown Court, in south London.

Baxter, 50, of Hinstock, near Market Drayton in Shropshire, who also admitted corruption and acquiring criminal property, was jailed for 30 months.

Behagg, 60, from Chatteris in Cambridgeshire, who was found guilty of corruption by authorising payments to Maylam following a trial, was jailed for three years.

Judge Nicholas Ainley said it was “very nearly as serious a case of corruption as I can imagine” that involved Sainsbury’s “being bribed with its own money”.

A four-year police investigation revealed that £4.9m was paid to Maylam out of a fund created by the overcharging of Sainsbury’s. The total amount the retailer says it was overcharged by was £8.7m.

Judge Ainley said as he sentenced the men: “There will be many who find the details of frankly outrageous extravagance this case offers fascinating.

“But what must be remembered is that this is a case of bribery and corruption. But not just that.

“This is a case of corruption involving theft on a huge scale.

“Corruption because Greenvale wanted to keep the Sainsbury’s contract – a contract for 45 per cent of Sainsbury’s potato contract worth about £40m – and they offered Maylam, the Sainsbury’s buyer, all the lavish entertainment he wanted, over £1m of it.”

The judge added that the bribery “may not have been necessary at all” and said: “There may not have been a danger of losing the business.”

Maylam closed his eyes as his sentence was passed, while Baxter nodded his head slightly.

Behagg did not react. As he left the dock, he mouthed the words “I love you” to his wife in the public gallery.

Jurors at Behagg’s trial heard Maylam, a senior buyer, incurred expenses of £20,000 a month, spending the money at expensive restaurants and hotels including Claridge’s and The Dorchester.

He also received lump sum payments via an account in Luxembourg to the tune of £1.5m.

He and married father-of-two Baxter were “drinking partners”, the court heard, and spent large amounts of money on fine wines and food.

Nicholas Walker, representing Maylam, said his client admitted the entertainment lavished on him was “excessive almost to the point of vulgarity”.

Baxter drank to such an extent that he was taken ill and diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, his counsel Robert Benzynie said, which acted as “a wake-up call”.

Behagg, a grandfather now past retirement age, worked “all his life for Greenvale, his counsel William Clegg QC, said.