Tuesday 6 March 2012

Ponzi fraud: two men found guilty of involvement in £115m UK scam

Two men have been convicted of involvement in the UK's largest Ponzi fraud, which saw hundreds of people – among them the former cricketer Darren Gough and the actor Frances de la Tour – lose £115m. John Anderson, 46, and Kenneth Peacock, 43 were found guilty of unauthorised regulated activity at Southwark crown court in London on Monday, but were cleared of one count each of fraud. The jury is still deliberating over allegations that they deceived investors. The scheme's mastermind, Kautilya Pruthi, 41, of Wandsworth, London, has pleaded guilty to the fraud and is due to be sentenced later this week. Ponzi frauds – which take their name from the Italian conman Charles Ponzi, who was particularly fond of employing the scheme – use cash from new investors to pay returns to existing investors and depend on a constant stream of new investors to fund the payouts. The court heard that Gough and the actor and singer Jerome Flynn are each thought to have lost up to £1m in the fraud, which also duped De la Tour. Victims handed over their cash to Pruthi, who promised them safe investments with returns of up to 13%. Instead, he spent their money on entertaining women, paying his daughter's private school fees and chartering helicopters. He also bought a private jet and built a car collection that included three Bentleys, a Lamborghini, two Ferraris, two Mercedes, a Rolls Royce, a Jaguar and a Maserati. "Mr Pruthi is believed to be the UKs most successful Ponzi fraudster," said David Aaronberg QC, prosecuting. "He obtained some £38m from investors and caused contractual losses of over £115m." Aaronberg added: "He enjoyed the company of women and was generous in the payments he made to a number of female friends, for whom he bought cars as presents, in total giving them £373,149." Indian-born Pruthi came to the UK in 2004 having been deported to his homeland after serving a sentence for faking documents in the US. Jurors heard that on coming to the country, Pruthi was quickly able to pose as "a wealthy individual". After setting up his company, Business Consulting International, said Aaronberg, Pruthi accepted deposits and "orchestrated a large-scale and sophisticated collective investment scheme". He would send personally tailored emails claiming he could offer up to 13% returns on 12-month investments because the scheme was available to a limited clientele. But in reality, said the prosecutor, he was "robbing Peter to pay Paul". Pruthi, who was not registered with or authorised by the FSA, admitted four counts of obtaining money transfers by deception, one of participating in a fraudulent business, one of unauthorised regulated activity and one count of converting and removing criminal property. Peacock, of West Hampstead, north London, and Anderson, of Surrey, are alleged to have acted as "aggregators" who pooled funds from third parties and then passed them on to Pruthi, who had duped them into the fraud at the outset. Eventually the scheme collapsed as there were not enough new investors to bring in the money needed to keep the old investors happy. "The scale of this scheme was vast and the losses were immense; several investors lost their homes, others have been declared bankrupt," said Aaronberg. "The monies which Pruthi received were generally not invested anywhere, neither in the UK nor abroad." According to the prosecution, of the £38,631,792 Pruthi obtained, £28m was used to pay back other investors, while £10m was siphoned off for Pruthi's "lavish lifestyle".