Investments  

Duo jailed for 11 years each over fake investment schemes

Duo jailed for 11 years each over fake investment schemes
(Donald Tong/Pexels)

Two company directors found guilty of fraud over fake investment schemes have each been sentenced to 11 years in jail.

Andrew Skeene and Juni Bowers were convicted last month of three counts of conspiracy to defraud and one count of misconduct in the course of winding up a company.

The pair took in £37mn from 2,000 investors for the three fake teak tree schemes in Brazil, called Belem Sky Plantation, Para Sky Plantation and Para Grosso Sky Plantation. 

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The duo encouraged victims to invest in these, claiming they were secure, well-managed, ethical investments that would help protect the Amazon rainforest and support local communities.

According to the Serious Fraud Office, in reality, “little-to-nothing” was happening on the ground and over the course of the schemes’ operation the pair collectively withdrew around £750,000 in cash and spent a further £2mn on retail, luxury and entertainment.

Skeene used investors’ money to fund his own “lavish” wedding and Bowers bought a Bentley Continental GT, the SFO said.

Handing down the sentences at Southwark Crown Court yesterday (June 15), Judge Pegden QC said: “The investors believed that they were buying into an ethical investment scheme which would yield a safe and steady income. 

“But the reality was that you wrote or said things about the schemes which were either false or misleading at the outset or became so, and you failed to correct them.”  

The judge highlighted the “serious detrimental impact” the schemes had on investors including some victims being prevented from retiring and suffering “prolonged distress and mental anguish”.

The judge also commended the “exceptional investigatory work” of two SFO investigators, including the “invaluable analysis” Richard Middleditch carried out regarding the extensive communications between the defendants.

Director of the SFO, Lisa Osofsky, said: “Today’s sentencing warns fraudsters that if they choose to play fast and loose with others’ hard-earned savings or pensions, we will pursue them and they will be held accountable for their crimes.

“This is the first of seven cases we are taking to trial this year. Over the next six months we will prosecute a further 18 defendants for alleged fraud, valued at over £500 million.”

sally.hickey@ft.com