By Kirstin Ridley
LONDON (Reuters) -The UK Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has filed fraud charges against four people, including a former chief financial officer, over the collapse of Britain's Patisserie Valerie chain of high street bakeries.
After a five-year investigation code named Operation Venom, the SFO said it had charged Patisserie Holdings' former financial boss Christopher Marsh, his accountant wife Louise Marsh, financial controller Pritesh Mistry and financial consultant Nileshkumar Lad.
A lawyer for Chris Marsh was not immediately available for comment and the legal representative of Louise Marsh declined to comment. Reuters was not immediately able to determine who was representing Mistry and Lad.
The four suspects are accused of conspiring to inflate the cash on Patisserie Holdings' balance sheets and annual reports from 2015 to 2018, including by providing false documentation to the company's auditors, the SFO said.
They have been ordered to attend Westminster Magistrates' Court on Oct. 10.
The company suspended trading in 2018, closing 70 stores with the loss of more than 900 jobs, after discovering a multi-million pound hole in its finance.
"Patisserie Valerie's abrupt collapse rocked our high streets – leaving boarded-up shops, devastating job losses and significant investor losses in its wake," said SFO Director Lisa Osofsky.
"Today is a step forward in getting to the bottom of this scandal."
Richard Sallybanks, a lawyer at BCL Solicitors, said the charges, along with the SFO's decision to close drawn-out investigations into Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto and Kazakh miner ENRC, showed the agency was preparing the ground for Osofsky's departure later this month.
"But, given it has taken five years for charging decisions to be made in this case ... it could still be several years before the individuals stand trial," he said.
($1 = 0.8011 pounds)
(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley; editing by Jason Neely, Christina Fincher and Richard Chang)