First criminal charges for £200m 'land banking' fraud
Four men have been charged for their involvement in £200m 'land banking' fraud - an emerging phenomenon where investors are duped into purchasing plots of worthless land - marking the first time criminal charges have been brought for the offence in the UK.
Omar Eshpari, 30, from Enfield, North London, Dean Straker, 32, from St Albans, Hertfordshire, Stefan Mitchell, 41, from Coulsdon, Surrey, and Derial White, 26, from London, were all charged with conspiracy to defraud before being released on bail.
The men are all due to appear at City Magistrates on 23 June 2011.
The charges follow enquiries conducted into Pemberton International, Eldon International, Willow International and Allied Investment Management.
City of London police claimed the activities of these companies resulted in losses of millions of pounds to UK investors, with the land being apparently misrepresented in both its potential use and its ownership when sold.
The land was recently estimated to be worth at least £200m. City of London Police is currently conducting a number of criminal investigations across the country.
Adrian Leppard, commissioner of the City of London Police, said land was a tangible asset and was increasingly viewed as a safer place to invest than stocks and shares.
He said: "Unfortunately organised crime gangs appear to be wise to this and are now targeting people across the UK, especially the elderly and vulnerable, with cold calls offering bogus investments.
"These criminal charges are an important landmark and emphasise how tackling land banking fraud is now a major priority for the City of London Police."
Luke Dockwray, reviewing lawyer in the CPS Central Fraud Group, said: "This is the first time the Crown Prosecution Service has brought a prosecution for a land banking fraud.
"The evidence we have suggests that these defendants sold land to investors by falsely representing that the land was suitable for future development and offered real investment opportunity.
"I considered over 16,000 pages of evidence gathered by the City of London Police during their investigation.
"Having reviewed that material, I have concluded that there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction, and that it is in the public interest to charge Omar Eshpari, Stefan Mitchell, Dean Straker and Derial White with conspiracy to defraud their investors."
The Financial Services Authority recently secured the closure of one land bank and a worldwide injunction against another in two cases in the High Court as the regulator steps up its own drive against the practice.
Tracey McDermott, the FSA's acting director of enforcement and financial crime, said: "Consumers are much better off not putting their money into these schemes since, by the time we can catch up with the operators, most of the money has disappeared and investors are left with land thats value simply doesn't reflect the money paid for it.
"We are working hard to stop them but the lesson remains: do not deal with unauthorised businesses as you are not covered by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme."