"As long-running rackets go, it may not be in the Mousetrap category, but it is certainly on par with Miss Saigon," said David Farrer QC, for the prosecution. Holidaymakers visiting Tenerife in the Canaries were duped into parting with money by carefully trained "glib, fast-talking untruthful salesman", he alleged.
Mr Farrer told the court that the fraud involved "a confusing network of companies which pretended to be independent of each other, but were each owned by the same man - John Palmer".
Palmer, 49, from Battlefields, Bath, Somerset, with five other men and a woman, is denying conspiracy to defraud.
Mr Farrer told the jury they would hear a story "of thousands of ordinary people who were systematically tricked into buying timeshare apartments". People were also tricked into buying timeshare interests, believing they could be rented out every year "at a wonderful rental", he added.
"These rackets went on for years. It involved thousands of European nationalities - the largest single national group was British," Mr Farrer said.
"The majority were cheated out of several thousands of pounds. Some managed to get their money back - but they were very much in a minority."
In the dock with Palmer are Christina Ketley, 39, from Brentwood, Essex; Martin Addington-Smith, 48, from Horsham, West Sussex; Malcolm Watsford- Wallace, 51, from Maidenhead, Berkshire; Alex-ander Thompson, 52, from Northamptonshire; Michael Harbison, 34, from north-west London; and Simon Stevens, 36, from Orpington, Kent. The trial continues.