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As any lawyer will tell you, the consequences of lying under oath in court can be very serious indeed. In one case, an accountant who forged his dead mother’s will in an attempt to get his hands on her stake in the family’s £160 million business had his reputation ruined and was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment.
The 65-year-old man sat as an arbitrator and was well respected in his profession. However, in the midst of a bitter family dispute, he gave in to temptation and fabricated a will by which he purported to inherit his mother’s £40 million share of an overseas palm oil plantation. On the face of it, the document superseded an earlier will which had named one of his brothers as sole executor and beneficiary.
After the brother launched proceedings, however, a judge found that the accountant had forged the later will and had repeatedly lied in legal documents and in his sworn evidence. Minute analysis of the purported will revealed that his mother had signed a blank piece of paper, as she frequently did when dealing with her business affairs, and that the text had been added later. The judge found that the earlier will had properly been admitted to probate and the accountant was ordered to pay the legal costs of the case, which were estimated at £1.3 million.
After his brother applied to the High Court to have him committed to prison for contempt, the accountant admitted what he had done. The Court noted that he had been hit hard in the pocket and that his otherwise unblemished personal and professional reputation had been wrecked. An immediate sentence of imprisonment was, however, required to mark the seriousness of his contempt, to deter others from fraud and to maintain the integrity of the judicial process.