Harlequin boss jailed for 12 years for £226m fraud

Harlequin chairman David Ames, the person behind a £226m SIPP-based fraud which hit 8,000 victims, was at present jailed at Southwark Crown Court docket for 12 years.

The Severe Fraud Workplace carried out a multi-national investigation into the con which noticed Mr Ames branded a “menace” by the decide.

Most of the victims, a few of them aged, misplaced pensions and life financial savings by investing in Harlequin’s bogus luxurious property schemes within the Caribbean.

The indictment interval for the case of 2010 – 2013 noticed buyers lose £226m, nonetheless the SFO mentioned that over the seven 12 months course of the scheme investor losses totalled an estimate £398m. 

Mr Ames was convicted in August and sentenced at present. 

Victims misplaced pensions and life financial savings after being conned into believing that their cash can be invested in vacation properties in St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Barbados and different Caribbean nations.

The SFO mentioned that, in actuality, the scheme had no exterior funding and by no means delivered what was promised. Nearly no properties had been ever constructed and 99% of those that invested made no return.

Mr Ames bought investments through SIPPs to a lot of individuals earlier than laws had been tightened in 2012. The SFO mentioned many victims had been aged with little investing expertise. 

Most of the buyers had been compelled to delay their retirement, having misplaced their pensions and life financial savings. The SFO mentioned that many victims proceed to battle with hardship at present, with some having to remortgage their houses and proceed to repay excellent money owed.

The court docket was informed that some victims had suffered breakdowns in relationships, rifts inside households, stress, anxiousness and melancholy.

The SFO mentioned that Mr Ames offending was “aggravated” by a failure to reply to no less than eight warnings concerning the Harlequin companies from enterprise associates, monetary professionals and authorities. He was additionally discovered to have wrongly tried to position the blame on his associates and lied to buyers on quite a few events.

SFO investigators discovered that Mr Ames had enriched his household by £6.2m by the Harlequin Group. He and his household took frequent holidays to unique locations, travelled in enterprise class and stayed in costly inns. He even employed a private chauffeur.

Choose Hehir informed Mr Ames: “You had been clearly way more considering pocketing buyers’ cash than in guaranteeing these buyers had been getting what they had been paying for.”

“You had been a slick and believable salesman and totally dishonest with it…You’re a menace to anyone unlucky sufficient to do enterprise with you.”

He went on to reward a “thorough and diligent investigation” by the SFO.

Individually, Mr Ames has additionally been disqualified as an organization director for 15 years.

Lisa Osofsky, director, Severe Fraud Workplace, mentioned: “Those that are trusted with buyers’ cash have a basic obligation to safeguard the pursuits of these buyers.

“As at present’s sentencing exhibits, we is not going to tolerate those that abuse that belief, present contempt for his or her victims and the legislation and squander different individuals’s cash for their very own acquire.”

Complaints about Harlequin started to emerge a decade in the past and in 2013 the FCA issued a warning concerning the agency’s advisers approaching buyers who might need obtained redress from the Monetary Providers Compensation Scheme (FSCS), to encourage them to put money into Harlequin property.

The FCA warned on the time that, as a property agency, Harlequin itself was not regulated though it could have handled regulated advisers. The FCA mentioned it had seen an growing variety of SIPPs investing in abroad property, together with by Harlequin.