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Man jailed for conning £15m from investors

Fraudster spent cash from bogus hedge fund on fleet of luxury cars and antiques

A conman who funded his luxury lifestyle by persuading wealthy clients to deposit nearly £15m in a bogus investment scheme has been jailed for four and a half years.

Marc Duchesne, 47, duped victims with the promise of an 11 per cent return on their outlay, a court was told. But rather than invest their funds, he simply kept the money for himself and spent it. In less than two years, he bought a string of Ferraris, a Rolls-Royce Phantom, a Bentley Arnage and several Hummers. He also bought a fleet of motorbikes and gave a speedboat to a friend. He spent £60,000 on cosmetic dentistry, £22,000 on cigars, and lived in an £11,000-a-month flat in London's Canary Wharf that he furnished with £1m of antiques. When he needed to travel abroad, he chartered jets, jurors were told.

Judge Michael Gledhill, sentencing Duchesne at Southwark Crown Court yesterday, said the case was solely about greed, telling the accused: "You became involved because of it, hoping to make easy money for nothing."

Duchesne's fraud centred on a high-yield investment hedge fund run by his UK-registered company Benchmark Asset Management (BAM). It was based on the simple yet highly unlikely premise that investors would receive returns of up to 11 per cent a month and their initial outlay would be safe.

Stephen Winberg, for the prosecution, said Duchesne promised victims their cash would be kept in a "non-depletion account" at NatWest. He added: "It was a powerful lure. It was a sort of 'heads I win, tails I can't lose'."

Duchesne lied that his company was regulated by the Financial Services Authority, and managed to rake in £2.9m from British customers, as well as €12.4m and 250,000 Swiss francs from clients in Europe. Funds were deposited in a BAM bank account, and from there transferred to Duchesne's private accounts. To keep his clients happy, he sent monthly statements which showed healthy returns on their cash. Some became suspicious, but their attempts to contact BAM were "fobbed off", jurors heard.

One client, who invested £500,000 and was promised a monthly income of £35,000, smelt a rat. When he asked for £70,000 back, he was given it. This, the jury heard, allayed his suspicions, but when he requested the remainder of his money, he heard nothing.

As well as his jail term, Duchesne, of East Finchley, north London, was disqualified from being a director for 10 years. His co-defendant Thierry Doutrepont, 56, of Telford, Shropshire, admitted making false or deceptive statements and was sentenced to two years in jail. Michael Gallagher, 65, of Walsall, and Edgar Hutton, 64, of Nottingham, admitted carrying on a regulated activity while unauthorised. They were each ordered to carry out 200 hours of community service.