Eight are charged by FCA over £5m landbanking fraud

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Eight men have been charged with fraud and other financial crimes relating to a landbanking scam dating back to 2008.

The men – who have been bailed to appear at the City of London Magistrates Court on 10 May – included solicitor Dale Walker of Sevenoaks in Kent, who was charged with money laundering as well as fraud.

The other seven charged with conspiracy to defraud were Scott Crawley, Daniel Forsyth, Ross Peters, Aaron Petrou, Ricky Mitchie, Adam Hawkins and Brendan Daley, with Mr Forsyth also being charged with providing false information.

The charges arose out of Operation Cotton, a Financial Conduct Authority investigation into the activities of three landbanking firms – Plott UK, European Property Investments (EPI) and Stirling Alexander.

The move is the latest crackdown by the City watchdog on the dodgy schemes that caught out tens of thousands of investors.

Landbanking was popular in the last decade as firms pushed the schemes on unsuspecting investors by promising massive returns.

The deals offered opportunities to snap up plots of undeveloped land in the expectation that it would be sold on to a major supermarket or similar at a massive profit.

But most of the deals were built on empty promises of future planning permission that never materialised, leaving investors with practically worthless plots of land, often in areas of natural beauty or historical interest, with little chance of it being built on.

The FCA has continued investigations into the scams launched by the Financial Services Authority, which brought civil proceedings against Plott and EPI. That led to the compulsory winding-up of the firms in 2011 and 2012.

The new FCA chief Martin Wheatley promised that the regulator would get even tougher with rogue investment firms it encounters.

"We will respond quickly and decisively when we confront the next calamity and the new regulatory structure has given us new powers to achieve this," he said in a speech.

With tough action on landbanking schemes, the number of consumers caught out has declined to a trickle, the watchdog said.

In 2012, there were just six cases reported to the regulator, compared with hundreds when landbankers were at the height of their activities in the last decade.