Imperial Consolidated director pleads guilty to fraud charge
Two businessmen accused of operating one of Britain's largest Ponzi investment frauds walked free from court without any convictions today after three attempts to prosecute them, spanning eight years, failed to secure a result at trial.
Following a trial lasting almost nine months, Lincoln Fraser and Jared Brook were acquitted of one count of conspiracy to defraud and the jury was hung over a second similar count, as well as on charges of fraudulent trading.
The jury had not been told a third co-defendant Bill Godley had pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to defraud as long ago as 2007. He will be sentenced soon.
The failure to reach a verdict over the alleged £150m fraud at Blackfriars crown court came almost two years after an earlier trial had ended in stalemate, forcing the judge to discharge the jury. The Serious Fraud Office had pursued a second trial, which was abandoned at the early stages because of legal errors, leading to a third trial. Today SFO director Richard Alderman said he would now abandon efforts to prosecute Fraser and Brook.
The cost to the taxpayer of an investigation which took evidence from more than 30 countries, and two full trials, is believed to be about £10m.
Fraser's solicitor Aziz Rahman said: "Mr Fraser has suffered eight years of investigation and a total of 15 months on trial. This has been a great strain on him and his family. Today's announcement, the second verdict and the outcome of the first trial restore Mr Fraser's reputation.
"[We] successfully demonstrated that Imperial was a legitimate and cautious worldwide business that suffered hugely damaging publicity in 2001 when an inaccurate Spanish newspaper report said the company had links to Osama bin Laden."
Jurors had heard months of evidence about the two men's past, including their four-year disqualification from acting as directors by the then Department for Trade and Industry over their "unfit conduct" at a failed hotel business in Morecambe.
The alleged fraud centred on the activities of Imperial Consolidated Group, based on a former RAF base at Binbrook in Lincolnshire, which pooled offshore investments in havens including the British Virgin Islands and Greneda.
The group attracted investments totalling £253m from almost 3,000 investors around the world during a four-year period up to 2002, when the business failed. Investors were promised high-yield returns and "total asset protection".
Referring to the fraud admitted by Godley, the SFO said: "The high rates of interest which were promised could only be supported as long as new investment was coming into the group. It was a case of robbing Peter to pay Paul and was ultimately doomed to failure."
Prosecutors said the enterprise had "massively inflated" the value of mining interests in South America to appear solvent. "Less than half of investors' money was loaned out by the UK loan businesses. Instead, it was channelled in to overheads and expenses, as well as extremely speculative mining interests which the investors knew nothing about."
Similar allegations were put to Fraser and Brook, and were denied at the trial.
Administrators have estimated that they will be able to recover just 5p in the pound for investors.