A finance director who worked for Dragons' Den star Duncan Bannatyne's group of companies has been charged with fraud and money laundering totalling almost £8 million, the Crown Prosecution Service has said.
Christopher Watson has been charged in relation to allegations of fraudulent activity between July 2008 and July 2014, concerning electronic transfers from the company accounts to his personal accounts and those of his businesses.
"These sums of money were allegedly used to gamble, settle personal debts, and to buy and renovate properties," a CPS spokesman said.
He will appear at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates' Court, County Durham, on June 24.
CPS specialist lawyer John Werhun: "The CPS has authorised the police to charge Christopher Watson with fraud by abuse of position of trust, and six counts of money laundering.
"Mr Watson was charged today.
"This decision was made in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors.
"After careful consideration it has been decided that there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction and a prosecution is in the public interest.
"Mr Watson will appear before Newton Aycliffe Magistrates' Court on 24 June 2015.
"May I remind all concerned that criminal proceedings have now commenced and the defendant has the right to a fair trial.
"It is extremely important that there should be no reporting, commentary or sharing of information online which could in any way prejudice these proceedings."
The Darlington-based Bannatyne Group runs hotels, spas and health clubs across the UK.
It was established by the well-known TV entrepreneur in 1996 and boasts more than 180,000 gym members.
Bannatyne, 66, was born in Clydebank in Scotland and famously began his business empire with an ice-cream van he bought for £450.
He has been an ever-present on BBC TV's Dragons' Den since it began in 2005.