An accountant has been sentenced to 39 months in prison, after pleading guilty to a range of offences relating to his company’s pension arrangement.
Roger Bessent, who was a trustee and administrator for the Focusplay Retirement Benefit Scheme – the pension scheme of his accountancy firm – was convicted of embezzling £290,000 of scheme funds, which he used to purchase a home for his daughter and to support struggling and new businesses in which he had an interest. He pleaded guilty to five counts of fraud, and two counts of making employer-related investments by way of prohibited loans. The prosecution was brought by The Pensions Regulator (“TPR”).
Mr Bessent was also convicted of acting as a director while disqualified.
At a related hearing to be held on 5 July, TPR will seek a confiscation order to reclaim the money that was misappropriated.
In handing down the sentence, His Honour Judge Nicholas Barker commented that Mr Bessent’s “selfish and greedy acts” targeted “ordinary, hard-working people” who had trusted him to invest their money to provide for their retirement. He said, “The system relies on trust. It’s that trust you breached.”
This case provided a series of firsts. It is the first time that TPR had prosecuted someone for fraud by abuse of position, and for making employer-related investments by way of prohibited loans. It was also the first time that a prosecution brought by TPR has led to an immediate custodial sentence.
The case is also notable for the collaborative work undertaken by TPR and The Insolvency Service, in bringing about the successful prosecution and disqualification.
It is another clear sign of TPR’s determination to drive up the standard of pension scheme governance, with a view to ensuring that members’ benefits are appropriately protected.