LONDON Three former senior executives of Tesco (TSCO.L), Britain's biggest retailer, will plead not guilty to fraud and false accounting charges, their lawyers said as the men appeared in court for the first time since being charged earlier this month.
Christopher Bush, 50, who was managing director of Tesco UK, Carl Rogberg, 49, who was UK finance director, and John Scouler, 48, who was UK food commercial director, were charged by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) on Sept. 9 with one count of fraud by abuse of position and one count of false accounting.
During a brief appearance at London's Westminster Magistrates' Court on Thursday, they spoke only to confirm their names, addresses and ages.
However, lawyers for the men said their clients would plead not guilty.
Judge Vanessa Baraitser said the trio would face trial at Southwark Crown Court in London and granted them unconditional bail until their next court appearance on Oct. 20.
The SFO said the alleged crimes occurred between February 1 and September 23, 2014.
Tesco issued a statement to the Stock Exchange on Sept. 22, 2014 saying that during its final preparations for a forthcoming interim results announcement it had identified a 250 million pound ($327 million) overstatement of first half profit, mainly due to booking commercial deals with suppliers too early.
The discovery led to the suspension of eight senior members of staff including Bush, Rogberg and Scouler, saw Tesco's shares plummet and plunged the firm into the worst crisis in its near 100-year history.
The profit overstatement, identified three weeks after Dave Lewis took over as chief executive from the sacked Philip Clarke, was later raised to 263 million pounds.
The court clerk read to the court further details of the charges against the trio.
The first charge alleges they dishonestly abused their positions as senior employees of Tesco and failed to safeguard the financial interests of the company, its investors and creditors.
The clerk said they are accused of concealing that Tesco's financial accounts included improperly recognised income and/or that they failed to correct the fact that the accounts did not reflect the true financial position of the firm.
The second charge alleges the three dishonestly falsified Tesco accounts or concurred in their falsification - "by the inputting of and/or reliance upon commercial income figures which gave a false account of the commercial income earned by Tesco Stores Ltd and a false account of the financial position of Tesco Plc and/or Tesco Stores Ltd."
The SFO investigation into Tesco continues.
When the trio were charged Tesco issued a statement saying the last two years have seen an "extensive programme of change" at the firm. It declined to comment further.
(Editing by Stephen Addison and Adrian Croft)