Accountant Roger William Bessent has been sentenced to three years in prison for fraudulently transferring more than £290,000 of pension funds into his own businesses and investments.
An investigation conducted by The Pensions Regulator (TPR) found that 66-year-old Bessent took money from the Focusplay Retirement Benefit Scheme; this was the pension scheme for accountancy firm Gleeson Bessent, where he acted as director. Bessent was also director at professional pension trustee firm Gleeson Bessent Trustees, which governed the Focusplay Retirement Benefit Scheme.
These roles enabled Bessent to gain access to the pension scheme’s funds, which he then converted into loans to support his personal business agenda. This included using more than £120,000 to buy a house for personal investment, to pay tax bills for Gleeson Bessent and the business of a client, to subsidise the running costs of a children’s nursery and to provide start-up investment capital for a relative’s physiotherapy business.
Bessent also made official meeting minutes and records for the pension scheme, falsely listing other trustees as being present at meetings.
Bessent pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud by abuse of position and to two counts of making employer-related investments by way of prohibited loans at Preston Crown Court on 27 February 2019. TPR has asked for three other counts of employer-related investments to be left to lie on file.
On 29 March 2019, at Preston Crown Court, Judge Nicholas Barker sentenced Bessent to 40 months in prison. This consists of 35 months for the fraud offences and four months for the employer-related investment offences, to be served concurrently. Bessent will also serve five months for director disqualification offences.
This is the first time that a TPR prosecution has led to an immediate custodial sentence.
Fraud by abuse of position is an offence under section one of the Fraud Act 2006; this carries a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. Making a prohibited employer-related investment is illegal under section 40(5) of the Pensions Act 1995 and has a maximum sentence of two years’ imprisonment.
The court is further looking to obtain a confiscation order, to force Bessent to repay the outstanding money taken. The hearing date for this is 5 July 2019.
As at March 2019, approximately £80,000 of the total has been repaid.
Guy Opperman, minister for pensions and financial inclusion, said: “Fraudsters who abuse positions of trust to line their own pockets with other people’s hard-earned savings will feel the full force of the law. I welcome the sentence handed down by the courts and the regulator’s action in bringing this prosecution.
“We’re determined to protect everyone’s pensions, which is why we’re introducing a new offence of wilful or reckless behaviour relating to a pension scheme, punishable by up to seven years in jail or unlimited fines.”
Nicola Parish, executive director of frontline regulation at TPR, added: “By working with the Insolvency Service, we have brought Bessent to justice and will now go after the money he took from the pension scheme. This sentence shows how seriously the courts take the theft of people’s hard-earned savings.
“Trustees should be in no doubt that if they abuse their position like Bessent did they should be prepared to go to prison.”