Wine trader goes from cellar to prison cell

A Wanstead businessman, who claimed to trade in fine wines but instead conned investors to fund a lavish lifestyle, has been sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison for a £350,000 fraud.

Jonothan Jeremiah Piper, 30, who owned Embassy Wines UK Limited and previously traded as a land and diamonds salesman, pleaded guilty to failing to pay tax and National Insurance on his earnings for six years and of conning investors out of thousands of pounds.

HMRC investigators discovered Piper had been living the high life, first as a land broker and diamond dealer and later as a wine merchant, despite his claims that he was living at home with his parents and not earning.

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Instead, he was driving around in luxury cars, including a Bentley and a Range Rover, living in an expensive rented flat and had bought hundreds of pairs of expensive trainers.

In total Piper pocketed more than £51,000 in income tax and National Insurance contributions from his undeclared earnings, between 2008 and 2014.

Investigators discovered Piper was also under investigation by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) after investors complained they had been mis-sold expensive wine collections and had either not received the wine they were promised or were deceived in respect of the expected returns.

Many investors were then persuaded to sell their wine collections to Piper’s company, but did not receive the promised payment.

An investigation by BEIS found that the self-professed fine-wine broker, who was disqualified as a director for 11 years back in November 2015, had not traded legitimately at all and had set up the company to simply con investors out of about £300,000.

John Cooper, assistant director of the fraud investigation service at HM Revenue & Customs, said: “Piper was looking to make easy money and although he had no experience or qualifications, he set himself up as a high-quality trader in diamonds and then in expensive wines.

“He thought he was above the law, exploiting the tax system and conning unsuspecting investors out of thousands of pounds.”

Ian West, deputy chief investigations officer at BEIS, said: “Mr Piper cynically attempted to dissolve his company Embassy Wine (UK) Limited without notifying his creditors of his intention or complying with the three month trading restriction prior to any application for the striking off/dissolution of a company, to mask his fraudulent activity.

“It was established that he had defrauded his companies’ unsuspecting clients of in excess of £295,000 in a wine investment scam carried out, in conjunction with other frauds against the revenue, to fund his expensive lifestyle.

“He now has to face the serious consequences of his criminal lifestyle.”

Confiscation proceedings to recover the proceeds of his crimes are ongoing.