Companies  

Three sentenced to 28 yrs for £23m biofuel fraud

Three company directors have today been sentenced at Southwark Crown Court to a combined 28 years in prison for their part in a £23m biofuel fraud.

Gary Lloyd West, of Hertfordshire, former director and chief commercial officer of Sustainable Agroenergy, a subsidary of Sustainable Growth Group, was sentenced to a total of 13 years’ imprisonment.

James Brunel Whale, of Sussex, a former director and chief executive and chairman of SGG was sentenced to a total of 9 years’ imprisonment.

Stuart John Stone, of Shropshire, director of SJ Stone Ltd, a sales agent of unregulated pension and investment products was sentenced to a total of six years’ imprisonment.

All three were convicted on Friday (5 December) as a result of the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation and prosecution of SGG including its subsidiary companies Sustainable AgroEnergy plc and Sustainable Wealth (UK) Investments Ltd.

The SFO’s criminal investigation focused on the selling and promotion of investment products based on “green biofuel” Jatropha tree plantations in Cambodia. The products were sold to UK investors primarily via self-invested pension plans.

These investors were deliberately misled into believing that SAE owned land in Cambodia, that the land was planted with Jatropha trees, and that there was an insurance policy in place to protect investors if the crops failed.

Futhermore, both Mr West and Mr Whale were disqualified from being a director for 15 years whilst Mr Stone was disqualified for 10 years.

When handing down sentence HHJ Beddoe described the fraud as a “thickening quagmire of dishonesty… there were more than 250 victims of relatively modest means some of whom had lost all of their life savings and their homes”.

Jane de Lozey, SFO’s joint head of fraud, said: “This is the first of a number of SFO cases to come to trial involving the mis-selling of investment products connected with self-invested pension plans in which savers on modest incomes have tried to invest for their retirement only to find themselves the victims of fraud.

“Pension scams can be difficult to detect even for experienced investors. The SFO is working closely with partner agencies across law enforcement to tackle this type of serious economic crime.”

Legal proceedings to establish compensation and confiscation orders against the three defendants have commenced.

donia.o’loughlin@ft.com