Christian Candy tells high court: ‘I don’t deal with shady people’

Juliette Garside
Christian Candy arrives at the high court on Friday to give evidence in a claim for damages brought by Mark Holyoake. Photograph: Carl Court/Getty Images

Property tycoon Christian Candy has rejected allegations that he intimidated a business associate by threatening to hire a debt collector, telling the high court: “I don’t deal with shady people.”

The billionaire was giving evidence for a third day in a £132m claim for damages brought by the entrepreneur Mark Holyoake, who alleges Candy and his brother used threats and blackmail to extort repayments totalling £37m on a £12m loan. The brothers deny any wrongdoing.

Under questioning by Holyoake’s barrister, Candy confirmed multiple dealings between his property business and a controversial firm of private detectives which has been investigated by Scotland Yard as part of an inquiry into the suspected corruption of Metropolitan police officers.

Holyoake alleges that in 2012 he was threatened during a phone call with Christian’s brother, Nick Candy. Holyoake claims Nick said his brother would sell the loan to Russian debt collectors who “would not think twice” about “seriously fucking hurting you”. Armed guards have been hired to patrol the Holyoake family home in Ibiza, and his wife, Emma Holyoake, has told the court she fears for her husband’s life.

“This was a concerted attempt to put the fear of God into Mark Holyoake,” said Roger Stewart QC. Christian Candy confirmed the call to Holyoake had taken place, with his lawyers listening in, and that reference had been made to a debt collector. But he denied making threats.

“We are not talking about some hoodie with a baseball bat,” he said. “This is a £12m loan. You don’t go and recover that with some gangster ... Am I really really going to start threatening people with Russians? It’s just wrong. Fundamentally wrong. That’s not my modus operandi.”

Stewart sought to highlight a close relationship between Candy and RISC Management, a detective agency founded by a lawyer who acted for the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky.

Candy told the court he had hired RISC to carry out background checks on all those wishing to purchase the 80-odd apartments at his flagship One Hyde Park development in the exclusive Knightsbridge district of London. Multimillion-pound penthouses in the four blocks, secured by iris scanners, bulletproof glass and British special forces trained guards, were acquired by Gulf royalty and business people from Ukraine, Nigeria and Kazakhstan.

Cliff Knuckey and another investigator at RISC were arrested on suspicion of police bribery in 2012, but all charges were later dropped. The firm was the subject of an inquiry by Scotland Yard over its alleged contact with officers serving in the elite economic crimes division, SCD6, according to documents leaked last year. The results of the inquiry have never been published: the Met said it never publishes such reports unless they result in criminal prosecutions or gross misconduct hearings, neither of which happened here.

RISC, which went into liquidation in 2014, was alleged to have acted like “an organised crime network”, with the leaked documents and evidence circulated to MPs suggesting multiple payments and phone calls to officers at the Met. Knuckey and the firm have always denied any wrongdoing.

Candy said: “I believe, throughout One Hyde Park, we used RISC or whether it was Cliff Knuckey to do KYC [know your customer, a term used for checks on identity and source of wealth] on every single buyer. So there was a period in my life when we were doing those developments where I would use either RISC or Mr Knuckey.”

He said he had also approached Knuckey, who worked on Scotland Yard’s money laundering investigation team, for advice about debt collectors. “Mr Knuckey was ex-head of anti money laundering at the Met,” said Candy. “This is cross-border debt recovery. I don’t ask him to do it. I ask him if he knows anyone ... it doesn’t go anywhere.”

Stewart pointed to the firm’s colourful history. Its founder, Stephen Curtis, a lawyer who specialised in acting for Russians who had fallen out with Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, was killed in a helicopter crash in 2004. Among its clients were the former Nigerian senator James Ibori, under investigation by SCD6 and eventually imprisoned for embezzlement.

Berezovsky, who fell out with Putin and was found dead at his Berkshire home in 2013, was a client. The murdered spy Alexander Litvinenko visited the firm’s offices just before his death, leaving traces of the deadly polonium poison which killed him.

Holyoake’s claim points out that a key Candy adviser, the tax expert Steven Smith, was a director of RISC Management. Companies House filings show he was on the board from its year of incorporation until May 2013. Smith is head of corporate finance at Candy’s property development company, CPC Group.

Candy confirmed that Knuckey had been asked to carry out a criminal record check on Holyoake and an associate. He told the court: “My brother thought Mr Holyoake had spent a period of time in prison and wanted to find out about it. And we asked Mr Knuckey to do that, and he was the one who did it.”

The check found no crime records for Holyoake or his associate. The case continues.