Financier denies debts to investors

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AN ASIAN businessman at the centre of controversy over an interest-free loan scheme last night denied he owed pounds 2m to Muslim depositors.

Mohammed Ramzan contacted The Independent from a secret address in Bradford, West Yorkshire, to denounce investors who have threatened him with 'Islamic justice'. A committee of investors claims he has vanished owing pounds 2m to more than 150 depositors.

But Mr Ramzan accused the depositors of being 'uncivilised,' after threats to kill him, and to chop off his hands. He claimed he had paid off all 'genuine investors,' and that the controversy was the work of money-lenders who feared his scheme would ruin their businesses.

The investors' committee was formed after the Muslim World Finance company closed its offices, with angry investors claiming they were owed up to pounds 50,000. According to Mohammed Rafi, who said he had invested pounds 15,500 in the scheme, the company owed more than pounds 800,000 to 20 depositors who had contacted him, but he claimed the total amount owed is more than pounds 2m.

But Mr Ramzan said his bank records would clear his name. 'These people have threatened to chop off my hands, is that civilised? They have threatened to kill me, is that civilised? Why do they not take the matter to the courts where it can be dealt with in a civilised manner?' He said he had moved to the secret address because of the threats, but refused to answer detailed questions about his company.

Investors called in West Yorkshire Police's fraud squad after his office closed without, they claim, repaying their deposits. Muslim World Finance attracted Muslim depositors by offering interest- free mortgages in exchange for interest-free deposits. Investors would invest a lump sum with the company, and after one year they would get their money back and an interest-free loan three times the value of the initial deposit.

The scheme appealed to Muslims for whom interest is forbidden by the Koran. But it was opposed by the Islamic Party of Britain, whose leader, David Musa Pidcock, said the scheme was 'fishy'. Some investors claimed they had remortgaged their houses to invest in the scheme, and feared they could lose their homes.