Companies  

Green boss in court on Ponzi allegations

Matthew Ames, 38, was accused of cheating ethical investors out of fortunes through bogus ‘green’ schemes in order to fund a lavish lifestyle.

The company director jetted around the globe, stayed in luxury villas in the Caribbean and drove Lamborghinis on investors’ money, which he is alleged to have taken for schemes involving teak plantations in Sri Lanka and rainforest protection, while running the Investor Club and Forestry for Life.

But no land was ever purchased by Mr Ames’ two companies and no tree was ever planted, the court heard.

Giving evidence, investor David Middleton told jurors Mr Ames persuaded him to sell £75,000 in shares to plough into the Investor Club. This was after Mr Middleton had previously dealt with Mr Ames’s father’s property business, Harlequin.

Mr Middleton said: “Mr Ames contacted me out of the blue by phone and said he understood I was looking for finance and he that he may well be able to help me with that. He came to visit me and my wife, who is now deceased, in early 2009.

“He indicated that because we had shares at that time that dividends were being cut, because that was the start of the financial crash.

“At that time he was discussing the situation of investing in teak trees in Sri Lanka but he was saying that because he wasn’t regulated by the FSA he couldn’t buy it, but that he needed extra funds for land in Sri Lanka.

“He suggested that if I sold my shares, money could be invested to buy land in Sri Lanka for the teak plantation.”

Ames eventually secured more than £1.1m in investments into the Investor Club by tricking punters into believing they were for teak tree plantations in Sri Lanka, the court heard.

Mr Middleton added that Mr Ames had even boasted to him in emails in 2009 that the teak market was outstripping the gold, oil, and stock markets.

In one email to Mr Middleton, Mr Ames wrote: ‘Teak is very similar to purchasing gold or oil and is not only outstripping the stock market but you also get organic growth with the product.

‘The teak market has outstripped the gold and oil markets.

‘I am investing in these trees personally and I have very strict criteria putting my money anywhere’.

Mr Middleton added that Mr Ames also offered him a high return rate of 15 percent a year on his original investment of £75,000 - equal to a return of £11,250 a year.

Jurors heard that Mr Ames used a Ponzi scheme to cover up the alleged fraud by repaying first in investors with new investors’ money.

Both Forestry For Life and Investor Club went bust in March 2011 with combined debts of more than £1.6m.

Mr Ames was arrested in September 2011 following a referral from the FSA to City of London Police’s specialist fraud unit.