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SFO under fire as pair cleared

20 July 2010

Story by: Marc Shoffman - FinancialAdviser - July 08, 2010

The Serious Fraud Office is facing strong criticism after a re-trial of two former directors of the collapsed Imperial Consolidated Group cleared them of an alleged £150m Ponzi swindle.

Jared Brook, 39, and Lincoln Fraser, 37, were said to have lured wealthy investors with promises of huge dividends while the business was really losing money. Both denied fraud charges at a five-month trial in September 2008 where the jury failed to reach a verdict.

They were cleared at Blackfriars Crown Court after a nine-month retrial on 5 July.

Jurors failed to reach a verdict on a similar conspiracy charge representing similar conduct over a shorter, two-year period, and a further allegation of fraudulent trading, but the SFO has ruled out pursuing a third trial after the judge, Mrs Justice Gloster, gave it a week to decide on a new case.

Mr Fraser's solicitor, Aziz Rahman, of law firm Rahman Ravelli, accused the SFO of wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers' money.

He said: "This lengthy saga calls into question the SFO's decisions regarding whether a trial and then a retrial were justified."

Richard Alderman, director of the SFO, said "This case was a very complex one with many victims and it was clearly right for us to have taken this case and to have conducted the first retrial."

Meanwhile, it can now be reported that another director William Godley, 41, had earlier admitted conspiracy to defraud.

He will be sentenced on 2 August. Imperial Consolidated Group, which had offices all over the world including Europe, Australia, Grenada, and a converted RAF base in Binbrook, Lincolnshire, was investigated by the SFO following its collapse in 2002.

Imperial's products included schemes based in Grenada under a separate subsidiary promising double-digit returns for short investment periods. Fund assets were used to provide micro-loans to army personnel and nurses in the UK.

Victims and their financial advisers were impressed by glossy marketing brochures boasting of high returns, secure investments and independent auditors, prosecutors said.

According to the SFO, the loans allegedly generated only a fraction of the advertised profit and many borrowers defaulted.

Mr Godley was accused of having "robbed Peter to pay Paul" - using new investments to settle with previous victims.

Some employees alleged they were paid handsome salaries to project a "money no object" image.

Three days before the ICG went into liquidation, a £1.1m company aeroplane was bought in 2001, was sold, the prosecution said.

Although his business was in Lincolnshire, Mr Godley was director of two key Caribbean interests which had roused suspicion from the Bahamas Securities Commission.

Timothy Barnes, prosecuting, said: "Instead of receiving their money back plus the promised generous rate of return, most of the investors lost everything."

There is no suggestion the other directors were aware of Godley's offences.


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