Recruiting firm boss demanded expenses to pay rent in lover’s flat, court hears

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The boss of a leading recruiting firm secretly demanded rent for his lover’s condo, skiing vacations and champagne dinners without the knowledge of his ex-wife, a court heard.

John Mortimer bought luxury gifts and travel around Europe until a senior executive met his former husband and co-founder of the company, Angela, after whom the company was named, and whistled about what he said were potentially illegal claims.

Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer had founded Angela Mortimer Plc – which now has offices in London, Paris, Brussels and New York – in 1976, but the couple divorced in 2011 and their relationship has been ‘tense’ ever since, the tribunal in the center of Amsterdam heard. London.

Director Davide Mele told Ms. Mortimer that he believed her former husband – the company’s chairman and chief executive – had falsely filed expense reports for 20 years and may have broken the law.

In May 2018, he arranged to meet Ms. Mortimer at the exclusive 5-star Café Royal in Soho, London.

At the secret date, he showed Mrs. Mortimer files and receipts with a detailed list of Mr. Mortimer’s expense reports from the previous year.

These included two private ski holidays in France, as well as a £ 4,000 rental payment for his lover, Verity Stokes, in Birmingham, the hearing was told.

John Mortimer (pictured) bought luxury gifts and travels around Europe until a senior executive met his former husband and co-founder of the company, Angela, after whom the company was named, and whistled about what he said were potentially illegal claims

John Mortimer (pictured) bought luxury gifts and travels around Europe until a senior executive met his former husband and co-founder of the company, Angela, after whom the company was named, and whistled about what he said were potentially illegal claims

His allegations led Ms. Mortimer to call an outside group of accountants for help with the publicly traded company.

She told them she had discovered a number of errors, including some of Mr. Mortimer’s expenses that she said was personal and not business.

At the secret appointment, Mr. Mele showed Ms. Mortimer files and receipts with a detailed listing of Mr. Mortimer's expense reports from the previous year.  These included two private ski holidays in France, as well as a £ 4,000 rental payment for his lover, Verity Stokes (pictured), the hearing was told

At the secret appointment, Mr. Mele showed Ms. Mortimer files and receipts with a detailed listing of Mr. Mortimer's expense reports from the previous year.  These included two private ski holidays in France, as well as a £ 4,000 rental payment for his lover, Verity Stokes (pictured), the hearing was told

At the secret appointment, Mr. Mele showed Ms. Mortimer files and receipts with a detailed listing of Mr. Mortimer’s expense reports from the previous year. These included two private ski holidays in France, as well as a £ 4,000 rental payment for his lover, Verity Stokes (pictured), the hearing was told

In response, Mr. Mortimer then emailed all of his associates stating that he knew there were “perfectly legitimate questions” about his expenses.

He explained several claims, saying, “You were right to question the amounts, though. Don’t complain next time, just have a look! ‘

An employment court did not determine whether the claims were illegal, but said, “Ms. Mortimer has repeatedly sought advice from outside auditors on the rules for reimbursable expenses.”

The controversy surrounding Mr Mortimer’s charges was exposed in a hearing after Mr Mele sued the company for unfair dismissal from his job of £ 65,000 a year.

He had worked as Director of International Operations for Angela Mortimer Plc, but after more than 20 years with the company, he was fired after it was decided that the role he held in the company was no longer necessary.

Mr. Mele had claimed he was fired for whistling about Mr. Mortimer’s expense reports.

Mr. Mele had access to the company’s accounting system and found that Mr. Mortimer had made claims for thousands of pounds in personal expenses.

Mr and Mrs Mortimer (pictured) had founded Angela Mortimer Plc - which now has offices in London, Paris, Brussels and New York - in 1976, but the couple divorced in 2011 and their relationship has been 'strained' ever since, central London tribunal

Mr and Mrs Mortimer (pictured) had founded Angela Mortimer Plc - which now has offices in London, Paris, Brussels and New York - in 1976, but the couple divorced in 2011 and their relationship has been 'strained' ever since, central London tribunal

Mr and Mrs Mortimer (pictured) had founded Angela Mortimer Plc – which now has offices in London, Paris, Brussels and New York – in 1976, but the couple divorced in 2011 and their relationship has been ‘strained’ ever since, central London tribunal

Mr. Mele said in his testimony that he believed Mr. Mortimer had falsely submitted expense reports for the past twenty years.

He said, “I was very suspicious that what happened was illegal. Handwritten, no VAT, I think this could be criminal.”

The tribunal learned that the relationship between Mr. Mortimer and Mr. Mele had been severed for the next four months and that the two men had “disagreements.”

In October, Mr. Mele met Ms. Mortimer again in secret, this time at her home, and revealed a list of expenses from 2016-18.

The list included £ 3,600 in opera tickets in Salzburg and Glyndebourne, a spa hotel in California, recording days, fishing trips to Helsinki and Russia, and lobster dinners.

There was also a range of expensive wines, works of art and champagnes, including 734 euros spent on Perrot Batteux and Bergeres-Les-Vertus.

In addition, a number of bookings for two at luxury hotels across Europe were added.

Mr. Mortimer emailed all of his staff stating that he knew there were 'completely legitimate questions' about his expenses

Mr. Mortimer emailed all of his staff stating that he knew there were 'completely legitimate questions' about his expenses

Mr. Mortimer emailed all of his employees stating he knew there were ‘completely legitimate questions’ about his expenses

The tribunal heard that when confronted by his ex-wife, Mr. Mortimer said the expenses were being used as an ‘eternal plaything if you want to chew a little bit of me’.

But while Mr. Mortimer knew his wife was watching his expenses, the panel concluded that he had no idea that Mr. Mele had given her the information.

In March 2019 he met with Mr Mele and told him that as the international division was losing money there was a negative balance of £ 1.2 million and he was therefore at risk of being fired.

Mr Mele then filed a complaint against Mr Mortimer, alleging that he had instituted a ‘sham resignation lawsuit’ over a ‘personal vendetta’ against him.

Ultimately, Mr. Mele was fired from his job “in the interest of efficiency and cost savings.”

In the end, labor judge Jillian Brown concluded that although Mr. Mele had blown in good faith, Mr. Mortimer was unaware that he was the cause of the expense leak.

To be clear, the Tribunal has not accepted that [Mr Mele] was selected for discharge because he had made proprietary disclosures …, ‘the panel’s verdict said.

‘He’s been selected for dismissal because [a panel] was of the opinion that there was in particular less need for the role of International Director. ‘

However, Judge Brown added: “The Tribunal considered that [AM Plc] acted beyond the wide range of reasonable responses when they decided to fire [Mr Mele]

The tribunal concluded that Mr. Mele had been unfairly dismissed on the grounds of dismissal and that he was also subject to protected disclosure, harm and victimization for other matters unrelated to Mr. Mortimer’s expense reports.

His dismissal requests for protected disclosure damage were not formulated as the tribunal ruled that Mr. Mortimer was unaware that Mr. Mele had discussed his expenses with his wife.

A hearing to decide on compensation will take place at a later date.