ANGUS Cook, the flamboyant former owner of Dundee Football Club, was fined more than GBP200,000 yesterday after he admitted masterminding a fraud operation that stretched across Europe.

Cook, a property tycoon, was also ordered to pay almost GBP600,000 in compensation to 27 companies he defrauded of more than GBP420,000.

Using an alias of Richard Arthur Thomas (RAT) of London, the Dundee businessman used a sham company to obtain goods on credit, from a GBP1000 Cartier watch to chickenfillets worth 50,000 euros (GBP34,000). Cook, 60, who spent four tumultuous years in charge of Dundee FC before running it into GBP500,000 of debt, was caught in an undercover police operation.

Appearing at Dundee Sheriff Court, he escaped jail after pleading guilty to the fraud charges. He now has 12 months to pay the fine.

Sentencing Cook, Sheriff Richard Davidson spoke of the "enormity" of the crimes.

He said: "This is a case where a significant number of people have sustained losses over more than four years, with some of those losses being substantial and my primary intention is for those who have sustained losses to be compensated. As your counsel has described, you will have a very clear insight into those companies who have been defrauded and suffered losses.

"I daresay there will be a number of people in Dundee and elsewhere who would like to see you in prison but I do not see any purpose in doing that."

He added: "Given the enormity of the offences, this has been a mammoth investigation by the Crown, Tayside Police and other police agencies, not just in the UK, but throughout Europe. They should be congratulated for bringing the matter to a satisfactory conclusion.

"What matters most is that those unfortunate organisations who have been put out of pocket for some time are compensated for their loss."

Cook lives with his wife in a seven-bedroom house in the Dundee suburb of Broughty Ferry, overlooking the Tay. Earlier, the court heard Cook, who had no previous convictions, had estimated assets of GBP1.6m. The court was told how Cook set up Krystall Ltd in 1999 and established a strong credit rating by legal means.

However, Cook was disqualified from acting as a company director for seven years in December 2002 after an investigation by the Department of Trade and Industry's insolvency unit.

He turned to fraudulent activities between May 10, 2001, and March 12, 2002, including obtaining computer and photocopying equipment worth GBP73,655, prawns from Belgium for 53,738 euros, GBP14,968 worth of furniture from Ikea, and around GBP6000 worth of golfing gear.

Depute-fiscal Alan Kempton told how Cook obtained goods on credit having applied in the name of Mr Thomas.

Cook pled guilty to defrauding large firms such as Harvey Nichols, Sainsbury's, Argos, Jewson, and Keyline Builders Merchants, as well as charges of stealing telecommunications equipment worth GBP11,750 from Caledonian Telecoms Ltd.

Yesterday, defence advocate Jamie Gilchrist said the "catalyst" for the fraud was "a serious downturn of his business".

Mr Gilchrist said: "There was a serious devaluation of his property, which put his businesses in severe jeopardy and his principal motivation was an attempt to keep his businesses afloat. This is not a situation where someone sets out with a clean sheet and thinks out how to raise some quick, dishonest cash.

"Mr Cook's family has taken steps in an effort to help raise funds to ensure compensation is paid, " the advocate said.