The Financial Conduct Authority has used a serious crime prevention order for the first time to prevent a man convicted of illegal money lending from carrying out this type of time again.
Dharam Prakash Gopee, 64, was sentenced to three and a half years in jail after being found guilty on Thursday (8 February).
In addition to his jail sentence, he was given a serious crime prevention order which will begin on Gopee's release from custody.
It includes conditions prohibiting him from conducting any business in the credit sphere, limits the number of bank facilities he is permitted to operate, and requires him to make disclosures of those banking facilities to the FCA.
Breaching the terms of the order is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years' imprisonment.
Between 2012 and 2016, Gopee acted as an illegal lender despite being refused a consumer credit licence by the Office of Fair Trading and without securing any authorisation from the FCA.
He loaned money to vulnerable consumers at high rates, securing the loans against their property, and then sought to take possession if they failed to pay.
In sentencing Gopee, HHJ Beddoe noted he was aware of the regulators serious concerns, but ignored them, deciding instead to "deliberately flout the law" ignoring the fact that he had lost his licence, and endeavouring to enforce agreements he knew were unenforceable but that debtors did not.
He continued to pressurise debtors with demands for payment, threatening court action he knew could not be sustained.
Commenting on the defendant’s activities as a whole, the judge said Gopee’s business practices "exploited the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of many, many people" who were unaware that their trust in him was misplaced.
He described the scheme constructed by Gopee as involving one contrivance after another in an attempt to get around the law, showing "a horrid pattern of exploitation".
Over the four-year period, his own loan books showed that he issued approximately £1m of new loans and took in at least £2m in payments from old and new consumers, none of whom were aware that did not have a licence.
Mark Steward, director of enforcement and market oversight at the FCA, said: "The court is sending a very clear message that deliberate and repeated offending will lead to long periods of imprisonment.
"Today’s decision also imposes the FCA’s first serious crime prevention order which will severely inhibit Mr Gopee’s ability to reoffend and should protect consumers in the future. The FCA will continue to take whatever action is necessary to bring offenders to justice and protect consumers."
Gopee had already been banned from acting as a company director in 2016 for the maximum period permissible of 15 years and a number of his companies have already been wound up in the public interest following proceedings by the Official Receiver.
He has also been the subject of a restraint order obtained by the FCA in 2015 under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.