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The corridors of power

Seeing Sebastian Coe on telly, plugging London's Olympic bid, made me smile.

There was a time, about 10 years ago, when Lord Coe of Ranmore (good name for a former Olympic athlete) would have done anything to keep out of the media spotlight. And it was all on account of a funny little chap with a moustache who we have encountered in this column before.

That’s right: Coe was one of a handful of celebrities who acted as introducers for Roger Levitt, the financial services salesman who narrowly avoided prison in the early 1990s. Others included Adam Faith, the pint-sized sixties crooner who died last year.

The Levitt Group looked like a well-run, regulated business, and Coe can’t be faulted for signing up. Levitt sponsored Lennox Lewis, then an up-and-coming boxer, and capitalised on his sporting links.

One can only imagine the consternation at Christmas 1990 when Levitt’s business collapsed.

Levitt went on trial in 1993, charged with fraud and theft. It all started splendidly. The prosecution alleged that The Levitt Group was an ’empty shell’ that had been kept going by ‘cooking the books’ and telling ‘whoppers’. Losses of £13m were disguised to look like profits of £16m.

Then, a few days into the trial, Levitt changed his plea to admit a charge of misleading financial regulators. Prosecutors had negotiated a plea bargain with him – then discovered, to their dismay that the charge carried no greater penalty than community service. Levitt bounced out of court proclaiming that his good name was intact, and said he would start a new career selling Hoovers.

No wonder Coe was embarrassed. But perhaps Levitt knew something. His business selling mortgages and insurance to sportsmen was branded Levitt Olympic Gold. Spooky, huh?

Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.

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