Bangkok police fail to trace head of share firm

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The man at the centre of an investigation into an international £100m share fraud vanished yesterday. Bangkok police looking for John Keeley, 42, found only a cartoon of him surrounded by ringing phones, sipping a beer and floating in a sea of US dollar bills.

While the Dublin-born entrepreneur was said to be continuing to enjoy the life of a high-flying money man, his minions, who include 34 Britons and eight Irishmen, were appearing in a court in Bangkok.

Last night all 84 foreigners were taken to the Immigration Detention Centre in Bangkok after being found guilty of working without a visa. They were all fined 5,000 Thai baht (£79). Two other Britons were also fined another £50 each and jailed pending deportation.

The Brinton Group and Benson Dupont International were closed down by Thai police – accompanied by Australian Federal police and the FBI – on Thursday, amid allegations that they had defrauded customers of at least £100m. The companies hired English-speaking foreigners to sell non-existent shares by telephone.

Yesterday Mr Keeley, whose caricature was found hanging in the Brinton Group offices in Bangkok City Tower, was alleged by a former "trader" and a foreign police source in Bangkok to be "the major player" in a series of worldwide frauds. Stephen Hooper, 28, one of the Britons working for the Brinton Group, told reporters: "I don't know anything about this operation. You had better ask John Keeley."

Thai police, the FBI, and Australian police are also looking for two other Irishmen and an Australian they believe held senior positions in the companies. The investigation is looking at similar frauds in Russia, the Philippines and the United States, where the schemes first started in the early Nineties.

One trader said of Mr Keeley: "He tended to adopt people. The ones he adopted made a lot of money. But he had a vicious side too. If anybody crossed him I would not like to think what could happen to them." Another said: "Keeley was selling shares in a company called Gary Player Direct Inc. Holdings ... He made a fortune."

Staff were split into two main groups "openers" and "loaders". The openers, who included most of the Britons, used to cold-call customers and close the first share deal, while "loaders" persuaded customers to buy more stock.