A customer pushes a shopping cart past a poster reading “Lots of brands now cheaper at Tesco” inside a Tesco supermarket store in the Kensington district of London. Tesco has agreed to pay a $162 million fine for accounting fraud in 2014. Photo: Bloomberg
London - Britain's biggest retailer Tesco has agreed to pay a $162 million (R2.03 billion) fine plus compensation to settle an investigation over a 2014 accounting fraud that sparked the biggest crisis in the company’s near 100-year history.

Tesco, which has been rebuilding itself after the scandal and a price war that hammered the whole sector, said on Tuesday that it would take a one-off charge of £235 million in its 2016-17 results, due on April 12.

The supermarket group has struck a so-called deferred prosecution agreement (DPA) with Britain’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO), enabling it to avoid a criminal conviction provided it meets certain conditions and pays the financial penalty. It will also pay compensation to certain investors of around £85 million.

“We sincerely regret the issues, which occurred in 2014, and we are committed to doing everything we can to continue to restore trust in our business and brand,” said chief executive Dave Lewis. Shares in the group were flat in early trading.

The DPA relates to false accounting by Tesco’s UK business between February 2014 and September 2014.

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Tesco said the DPA was the subject of a preliminary court ruling on Monday. The SFO and the firm’s UK unit Tesco Stores will now seek final judicial approval for the DPA from the court on April 10.

The retailer also said yesterday that it had agreed with Britain’s Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to a finding of market abuse in relation to a trading statement it published on August 29, 2014.

It has said that statement overstated the expected profits of the group at that time by £250m, mainly because it booked commercial deals with suppliers too early.

There is no penalty being levied by the FCA on Tesco.

As part of the agreement, Tesco will establish a compensation scheme for investors who bought shares or bonds for cash between August 29, 2014, and September 19, 2014, giving 24.5 pence a share plus varying rates of interest depending on whether the investor was institutional or retail.