A COUNTY Donegal businessman has rejected the verdict of a Czech court which found him guilty of fraud.

William James Harkin, 52, who has been living in Glasgow, was one of almost 300 businessmen who attended a high-profile event in Dublin last month aimed at supporting jobs here.

Last week he was sentenced to six years in prison by the regional court in Zlin, south Moravia, after it found that he fraudulently borrowed Kc19,000,000 (about €770,000) during the takeover of Moravan Aviation, which produced light aircraft for pilot training and acrobatics.

Prosecutors told the court that Harkin had negotiated a total of six loans in the knowledge that he could not pay them back, a crime which carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years in the Czech Republic.

The court heard that the company subsequently collapsed and was later bought out of receivership by new Czech owners. Harkin was represented in court by a lawyer who strenuously denied the charges.

However, Harkin has rejected the finding of the court and says neither he nor the company he owns ever took any money out of Moravan. “We in fact invested considerable sums of money to stabilise and develop its business.”

Harkin has alleged that he himself is the victim of a fraud perpetrated by a number of individuals.

“The allegations at the heart of this court case are false and we have concerns that there may have been an abuse of process, including malicious and false litigation against me.”

While he has been described in the Czech press as a fugitive, a spokesperson for Harkin said that his client had not been present at the court hearing, as he had not been informed that the hearing was to take place.

The court decision is not final, as Mr Harkin intends to appeal the verdict.

Harkin claims that the problem arose after he entrusted a local management team with the day-to-day running of the company but that “one local manager took advantage of this trust and without proper approval of the Moravan board of management, or the company’s owners, entered into various loans during 2009 on behalf of the company.

“The loans were secured in such a way as to allow a local ‘lender’ an opportunity to remove certain assets from the company”.

Harkin says that he has “launched legal proceedings against a number of individuals whom we believe have engaged in a conspiracy to fraudulently acquire the assets of the company and abuse the legal process to wrong-fully enrich themselves”.

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