Senior purchaser convicted of £2 million fraud

3 April 2012

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3 April 2012 | Angeline Albert

Ross Knowles, the former head of energy procurement at Kent County Council has been convicted of fraud.

Knowles was found guilty at Maidstone Crown Court of committing fraud under section one of the Fraud Act 2006 between August 2008 and January 2011 in his position as head of energy procurement for the Laser (Local Authority South East Region) Energy Buying Group.

The Laser consortium is part of Kent County Council Commercial Services and provides energy purchasing and contract management to more than 100 local authorities.

Knowles, who had pleaded not guilty to the fraud charge, set up an additional fee from supplier British Gas/Centrica of 0.04 pence per kilowatt hour of energy supplied. But instead of claiming a rebate at the end of the year to benefit all the consortium’s public services, Knowles forged invoices to divert the money to his own bank account. The account used by Knowles shared the same name Laser, thereby disguising the fraud from British Gas and his own bank. He made £2 million through this scheme.

The jury rejected Knowles’ claim that the money paid to him comprised legitimately earned commission from the supplier. The fraud was uncovered by Knowles’ bank, which had been alerted to an unusually large payment of several invoices being paid in by British Gas at once.

Andrew Penhale, lawyer for the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) central fraud group said in a statement: “Central fraud group lawyers put a compelling case before the court, proving Knowles to be a systematic fraudster and a man who enriched himself at the public’s expense. As the head of energy procurement for Kent County Council, Ross Knowles was a trusted and very senior public official. But far from ensuring best value for the public, Knowles used a sophisticated but simple technique to defraud them.”

Kent County Council said it will make a statement after Knowles is sentenced on 27 April. The CPS said that once Knowles is sentenced, it would pursue confiscation of assets in a bid to recover the £2 million.

Update, 3 May 2012

Ross Knowles was sentenced to seven years in prison for his role in the fraud.

‘This was an extremely daring abuse of position by Knowles. He deliberately set out at to fraudulently secure a vast amount of money for himself," said detective constable Mark Agnew of Kent Police.

"Knowles moved around £260,000 to other bank accounts that he controlled, and spent around £140,000 on luxury purchases including a Jaguar car and holidays. The investigation was complex in that I had to become something of an expert on how the power industry operates and how it purchases power but the fraud itself was quite straightforward. But our work doesn’t end with Knowles’ imprisonment. We’ve frozen his bank account and now we’ll go through the process of clawing back the proceeds of his crimes."

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