Betfred to pay £800,000 for breaching ‘anti-money money laundering responsibilities’ over dealings with crooked Leeds accountant

Matthew Stevens.
Matthew Stevens.

Bookies Betfred is to pay more that £800,000 in compensation after a Leeds accountant fleeced his employer and gambled away huge sums on bets with the firm.

The bookmaker has been criticised by the Gambling Commission who launched an investigation over the company’s behaviour towards customer Matthew Stevens.

Stevens, from Rothwell, Leeds, was jailed in January for three years and four months after stealing £850,000 from his boss to fund his online gambling addiction.

During the 13-month period of offending Stevens became a VIP customer with Betfred and was in the company’s top five per cent of customers in terms of spend and profit.

The Gambling Commission investigation found that Betfred had breached its licence conditions by failing to meet its anti-money laundering and social responsibilities in a number of key areas.

Betfred staff wrongly believed Stevens was a professional gambler and company director without checking the source of his income, according to the Gambling Commission’s report.

The company also “asked no further questions” when Stevens showed Betfred suspicious bank statements showing four payments from his employer of £14,702 which he had tried to delete.

The commission investigation also revealed that Betfred wrongly believed Stevens had won a large sum of money with another gambling operator. That belief was based only on the opinion of staff members.

During Stevens’s sentencing hearing, Leeds Crown Court heard that the case had been referred to the Gambling Commission over claims that Betfred offered Stevens free bets and days out to go gambling despite racking up huge losses.

Among the terms of Betfred’s licence is an obligation to ‘prevent gambling from being a source of crime or disorder, being associated with crime or disorder or being used to support crime’.

Betfred will now pay £443,000 to the victims of the criminal activities, with a further £344,500 paid to socially responsible causes, as agreed with the Gambling Commission.

In addition, Betfred will also conduct a review and audit of its policies and meet the costs of the investigation.

Richard Watson, programme director at the Gambling Commission, said: “We identified a number of weaknesses in the anti-money laundering and social responsibility controls used by Betfred. The penalty package of over £800,000 reflects these failures.

Stevens was employed by business owner Mahmood Mazhar who trained him in accounting and book keeping.

He became an in-house accountant for two of Mr Mahmood’s businesses - Core Telecommunications, based in Stanningley, and Norman Bar, on Call Lane, in Leeds city centre.

Stevens had access to bank accounts, was responsible for paying creditors and paying staff wages.

Stevens “bled” company bank accounts dry by transferring money to his own accounts and covering it up with fictitious transactions.

Mr Mahmood first became concerned when creditors began contacting him to say they had not been paid.

Stevens managed to reassure his boss that errors had been made on the part of others.

The victim was then contacted by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) over an unpaid tax bill of £250,000.

Stevens continued to lie and faked online documents which he claimed was proof that HMRC had made a mistake.

He plundered £850,000 from the two businesses before the offending came to light. Stevens, of Thorne Grove, Rothwell, pleaded guilty to two offences of theft from employer.

John Batchelor, mitigating, said Stevens became “hooked” on online betting after he lost a sum of £13,000.

Mr Batchelor said Stevens’s main betting account was with Betfred. The lawyer said Betfred would contact Stevens and offer him free bets after he had lost large sums of money.

Recorder Abdul Iqbal, QC, said: “You knew the intimate workings of this business and you must have known the impact of bleeding those bank accounts dry.”

Reacting to the ruling, a Betfred spokesman said: “Betfred notes the findings of the Gambling Commission relating to a historical case of an online customer.

“We have greatly strengthened our policies and will continue to review and update our anti-money laundering and social responsibility procedures.

“The Betfred Group remains fully committed to working with the Gambling Commission and the rest of the industry to strengthen existing controls. Responsible gambling is at the very heart of our business.”