Pair cleared in £52m GP Noble pension fraud trial
A businessman accused of stealing £52m from a pension fund and using it to finance a Hollywood movie project and a luxury resort in Thailand was cleared today (12 July).
Tony Morris, 49, was also said to have paid £1.5m of the money to his ex-wife as part of their divorce settlement and spent a further £150,000 on an Aston Martin.
He was extradited to the UK to stand trial for the alleged fraud on Nottingham-based GP Noble Trustees Limited after investigators found him living in a £5m cliff-top mansion in Palm Beach, Sydney, Australia.
But after a two month trial at Southwark Crown Court, Mr Morris was cleared of conspiracy to defraud and theft by a jury of seven men and five women.
His financial adviser Peter Malmstrom, 45, was also cleared of laundering nearly £7m from the GP Noble Trustees Limited pension fund.
It can now be revealed that GP Noble manager Graham Pitcher, 52, was convicted of conspiracy to defraud and jailed for eight years after a trial last year for transferring £52m into two offshore bonds.
Judge Nicholas Loraine-Smith had told him: “I have to recognise that at some stage you may have believed that this scheme would benefit the pensioners.
“But the fact that you so carefully hid what you were up to from the parent company and the regulating authorities shows you did not believe it would stand up to any scrutiny.
“You would have been denied access to the world of boats and private planes that your jottings show you dreamed about.
“As breach of trust cases go, this is about as serious as it can get.”
The court heard the investments were liquidated and siphoned out of the UK through British Virgin Islands-registered company Fareston and another offshore company - Multiple Unilateral Financial Futures.
Pension scheme cash was then used to buy land for development on the paradise island of Koh Samui, in Thailand, invest in an online bookmaker in Australia, and used to finance a Hollywood movie project.
Pitcher was aided by ‘greedy stooge’ Quentin Russell, 54, who provided letters backing up the disinvestment paying him £2000 a letter.
Russell was jailed for 15 months for his part in the fraud last November.
Mr Morris, whose company The Money Portal bought GP Noble in 2006, maintained the stance that he had no involvement in the theft of pension funds.
He told jurors: “I did not authorise any disinvestment and I did not authorise any reinvestment of GP Noble pension schemes.”
Mr Malmstrom told the court he thought the payments being made to Mr Morris were legitimate, and he had no idea that the wider fraud was taking place.
He said: “That suggestion, that I knew or suspected that this [the money] came from pension funds - I strongly deny that.
“Your suggestion that I knowingly was involved in misappropriation of funds from pension funds, I strongly object to.”
Richard Craven, co-founder of The Money Portal, said he no idea the money had been removed until