Two cleared of £115m Ponzi scam

 

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The Independent Online

Two businessmen have been cleared of deceiving celebrities, sport stars and hundreds of other victims out of £115 million in Britain's biggest "Ponzi" investment scam.

John Anderson and Kenneth Peacock were today found not guilty of recklessly making a misleading, false or deceptive promise at London's Southwark Crown Court.

However, on Monday, the pair were convicted of their involvement in the scheme, masterminded by conman Kautilya Nandan Pruthi, when a jury of six men and six women found them guilty of unauthorised regulated activity. Jurors also cleared them of one count each of fraud.

Former cricketer Darren Gough and actor-turned-singer Jerome Flynn were among 800 people targeted by flamboyant fraudster Pruthi.

Investors were tricked into parting with savings after falling victim to offers of massive revenue returns unmonitored by the Financial Services Authority.

Police said parents of disabled children and a host of undisclosed well-known names were among investors who parted with savings while Pruthi lived in multi-million pound homes, drove Ferraris and flew in private jets.

Aided by Anderson and Peacock, Pruthi made £38 million from the swindle over three years. The total loss to victims is estimated at more than £115 million.

Divorced father-of-one Pruthi, 41, spent much of the cash during half a decade of womanising, extravagance and fast cars.

"Mr Pruthi is believed to be the UK's most successful Ponzi fraudster," said prosecutor David Aaronberg QC.

"He obtained some £38m from investors and caused contractual losses of over £115m.

"The scale of this scheme was vast and the losses were immense. Several investors lost their homes, others have been declared bankrupt."

The trio were arrested in May 2009 after City of London police launched a nationwide investigation into Ponzi fraud.

Officers fear they may only be able to return around £2 million to victims, as he had already spent the vast majority of the money.

Pruthi blew hundreds of thousands of pounds a month renting properties in central London along with a mansion in Ascot to lure investors into believing he was one of Britain's top businessmen.

Bentleys, a Ferrari, a Jaguar XKR, a Maserati and even a private jet were purchased before he was arrested.

Indian-born ringleader Pruthi also ploughed some of the millions into luxury racing firm Apex Motorsports in a bid to impress investors.

Detective Superintendent Benjamin Flannaghan, who led the City of London police inquiry, said Pruthi was a "flashy operator".

"You could tell he was an extravagant man just by looking at his dress sense," he said.

"He always wore a cravat and only wore brightly coloured clothes and suits.

"He had a shock of long dark hair which was heavily receding. His own defence counsel said in court that he was 'mesmeric'."

The private jet he owned was destined for tragedy. Five people were killed as his Cessna Citation 500 aircraft crashed after an engine shutdown in Farnborough, Kent, on the afternoon of March 30, 2008.

Former British Touring Car Championship driver David Leslie, 54, Apex Motorsport boss Richard Lloyd, 63; Christopher Allarton, 25; and pilots Mike Roberts, 63, and Michael Chapman, 57, all died when the plane hit a house.

Actor Flynn, who found fame in his role as Corporal Paddy Garvey in 1990s TV series Soldier Soldier, was named during the Southwark Crown Court trial as one of hundreds of investors to fall foul of the scam.

Pruthi began taking deposits from investors around the world in 2005, offering a headline return rate of 156% per year on investments.

He said he was using funds as high interest loans to distressed trading companies involved in the import and export of goods, whereby these companies would be charged 18% per month.

He won the trust of wealthy businessmen, sports stars and celebrities impressed by his luxurious lifestyles and plush offices based Knightsbridge

Investors from Britain, Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and Spain were eventually lured into parting with their cash at the prospect of easy money.

"It is like a spider's web of corruption stretching around the world," Mr Flannaghan said.

"There is not a continent that is not touched by it. It was sold to people as a private limited scheme to friends and families. It was anything but."

Among those lured into the scheme were Anderson and Peacock.

Mr Aaronberg told the court: "The prosecution say they were hoodwinked by Pruthri and lured into parting with their own money to go into his own non-existent investment scheme.

"They are facing criminal charges because the prosecution suggests the time came where their conduct became at best questionable and at worst dishonest."

Pruthi, of Wandsworth, south-west London; divorced former accountant Anderson, 46, of West Hampstead, and married Peacock, 43, of Camberley, Surrey, were all made bankrupt after their arrests.

Before trial, Pruthi pleaded guilty at Southwark Crown Court in London to four specimen counts of obtaining money transfers by deception, one count of participating in a fraudulent business, one count of unauthorised regulated activity and one count of converting and removing criminal property.

Judge Michael Gledhill QC warned Pruthi a jail term is "inevitable".

Detective Superindent Bob Wishart said: "Pruthi used fast cars, helicopters and luxury houses to create an illusion of success and legitimacy.

"In reality he was a cold-hearted criminal driven by greed, with an unquenchable desire to steal and spend leading to the construction and collapse of the UK's biggest Ponzi scheme.

"It took a complex and painstaking investigation over several years to blow away all the smoke screens and ensure Pruthi faced justice.

"Unfortunately there is no way of repairing the damage done to many of their victims lives, their money is gone."

A ponzi fraud, named after Italian fraudster Charles Ponzi, involves the payment of purported returns to existing investors from funds contributed by new investors.

PA