The whistleblower in the Tesco accounting scandal, whose revelations plunged the retailer into its worst-ever crisis, agonised for weeks about what he was going to do, a court was told.
Sasha Wass QC, prosecuting, said one of Tesco’s senior accountants, Amit Soni, eventually presented findings of the hole in its accounts to the board.
In an email written on 3 September 2014, before the company’s admission saw Tesco’s shares go into freefall, he told colleagues: ‘Keep the file with you, the whistle is about to blow.’
He added: ’It has consumed my life in the last four to five weeks, collecting information in secret, getting my team to understand what I want and then doing it in a subtle way and only on my desktop.
’Yesterday, after a long time, I slept properly, but the fight starts now.
‘It is a fight I have to have if Tesco is to become better.’
Carl Rogberg, 50, Chris Bush, 51, and John Scouler, 49, are alleged to have failed to correct inaccurately recorded income figures, which were published to auditors, other employees and the wider market.
Wass also told the court another two Tesco employees felt so compromised by the pressure to guard the “biggest kept secret” in the supermarket that they quit their jobs.
The jury was told that the practice of bringing forward income from the future to artificially inflate the figures of the present “was contrary to proper accounting standards and principles”.
Wass told jurors that, at the end of meetings with commercial directors before the first half ended in August, Bush knew how critical the situation was if it continued.
She said: “Mr Bush knew that the hole in the accounts at the end of the second half in the financial year could be as large as £600m if nothing changed.
“Mr Bush said they would be able to sort it out when the new chief executive officer arrived. But until the new chief executive officer arrived, Mr Bush’s instructions were to get to zero the budgets for half one and half two.”
But jurors heard that not all those who worked on the company’s finances agreed with the way they were handled, and that the situation had left some staff “in tears”, fearing the loss of their accounting qualifications.
Wass said: “Let me tell you about two people who felt so compromised by the mis-recording of profits that they did resign rather than engage in what they considered to be practices that were unlawful.”
Richard Parsons, a project manager at the retailer, said in an exit interview “it has broken me” and that he was angry at having been put in a position that compromised his ethics.
Wass told the court: “Richard articulated that this is the biggest-kept secret in Tesco and if this was to get out, it would not be good for Tesco.”
Jurors also heard that former Tesco accountant Aysen Nadiri quit her role on August 26 2014.
Wass said: “Miss Nadiri became increasingly concerned about the message from senior management because they refused to accept that targets could not be met and they had a disregard, in Miss Nadiri’s view, for proper accounting principles.
“But Miss Nadiri became more and more uncomfortable attending meetings of the senior commercial teams when this practice was discussed, and she felt she no longer wanted to be part of the company.”
She added: “Miss Nadiri said that she was nervous about things going on. She was uncomfortable that things would not stand up at audit and she felt compromised as a financial professional.”
The supermarket’s former finance chief, managing director and food commercial head, who are charged with fraud by abuse of position and false accounting from February to September 2014, were investigated after Tesco was found to have inflated its profits.
A public announcement on September 22 2014, which stated that it had previously over-estimated its profits by approximately £250m, sent “shockwaves” through the stock market, Southwark Crown Court in London has heard.
The three men are accused of “cooking the books” in a scandal that wiped £2bn off the supermarket’s total share value.