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By Eric Onstad and Peter Hobson
LONDON, April 18 (Reuters) - Accounting practices at the London Metal Exchange (LME) were “extremely lax”, a court heard on Tuesday, as a former accountant was sentenced to 32 months in prison for using LME credit cards to pay for luxury holidays and home improvements.
Annmarie Norris worked her way up at the LME, the world’s biggest market for industrial metals, to head the accounting department even though she was not a professionally trained accountant, the Inner London Crown Court heard.
When the fraud was uncovered in 2015, Norris admitted using seven LME credit cards and withdrawing cash to pay for a Caribbean cruise, a Greek holiday, dental work, a new kitchen and decking for her garden, among other things.
It took time to unravel the fraudulent activity, which totalled 204,405 pounds ($260,250), because accounting practices at the 140-year-old LME were “extremely lax” and its accounts were “chaotic”, prosecutor Denis Barry told the court.
”The LME has reviewed all its internal accounting processes and has put in place additional robust procedures to ensure the utmost security in financial administration,” the exchange said in a statement.
Norris, 40, joined the LME in 1997 and was promoted to head accountant in 2011, earning 72,000 pounds a year plus bonuses when she was dismissed in October 2015.
The fraudulent activity took place at the LME - owned by Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Ltd - between December 2012 and July 2015.
“This was a systematic, prolonged and deliberate breach of trust at a well-paying, high-flying job,” Maryam Syed, the judicial officer presiding over the hearing, said. “A judge could take the view that this was nothing more than greed.”
Norris, who has two teenage daughters, will serve half of the 32-month sentence and will have to pay restitution, to be determined, to the LME, Syed added.
Norris was originally charged last November with three counts of fraud estimated to be worth about 1 million pounds, including charges that she withdrew foreign currency, but one of the counts was dropped and it was later made clear that all the fraudulent activity was in the British currency.
At a December hearing, charges were dismissed against her husband Michael Norris for converting criminal property worth 167,595 pounds. ($1 = 0.7854 pounds) (Reporting by Eric Onstad and Peter Hobson; Editing by Dale Hudson)