U-turn: Police will consider criminal inquiry into Wonga over fake legal letters

 

Deputy Business Editor

Police made a U-turn to night over Wonga’s fake legal letters scandal, declaring that they are now considering a criminal investigation.

The shift came as questions were being asked about how much top managers and directors knew about the practice. Suspicions were raised when inquiries by The Independent found that the company had only a few dozen staff in the period when it sent out 45,000 threatening letters in the name of phoney law firms.

The day before the City of London Police issued its statement, consumers groups had expressed outrage when the force said it considered an inquiry to be unnecessary.

Earlier in the week, the City watchdog, the Financial Conduct Authority, had told Wonga to compensate customers who had been sent the letters, a decision described by the City of London Police as a “successful outcome” to the investigation. In some cases, clients had been charged for the time the fake lawyers had spent drafting the letters.

Wonga, until recently run by the millionaire entrepreneur Errol Damelin, sent the fake letters between October 2008 and November 2010.

Companies House filings from the time show it had only 22 staff in administration, marketing and management roles. Even by the end of 2010, when the practice was ended, the official documents state it employed only 31 staff outside the IT department.

Mr Damelin quit the company two weeks ago, leaving it without a chairman or chief executive. Jonty Hurwitz, the co-founder, left in 2013.

Mr Damelin did not respond to questions sent to him via a spokesman yesterday asking how much he knew about the letters and when he found out about them.

Other directors from the time, including the venture capitalists Laurel Bowden, Sonali De Rycker, Robin Klein and Bernard Liautaud, also did not respond to requests for comment – either directly or through spokespeople.

Errol Damelin, Wonga’s co-founder, quit the firm two weeks ago Errol Damelin, Wonga’s co-founder, quit the firm two weeks ago

A Wonga spokesman said: “It’s certainly true we were a much smaller company then than we are now.” He repeated that anyone who had been involved in the scam had left the company but refused to comment on whether senior management knew of the letters at the time.

Some Labour MPs have questioned how much Adrian Beecroft, a Conservative party donor and adviser, knew about the affair. But Mr Beecroft, who chairs  who chairs Dawn Capital, a Wonga shareholder, told The Independent the first he knew about it was this week, on the day the City watchdog issued its statement.

Meanwhile, the Law Society has asked the Metropolitan Police to investigate whether any offences such as blackmail or breaches of the Solicitors Act have been committed. It is now likely that the Met will pass on the Law Society’s request to the City of London Police.

Desmond Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, said: “It seems that the intention behind Wonga’s dishonest activity was to make customers believe that their outstanding debt had been passed to a genuine law firm.

“It looks like they also wanted customers to believe that court action undertaken by a genuine law firm would follow if the debt was not repaid.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003