Thousands of investors were cheated out of more than £220mn when they sank their savings into ‘off-site’ luxury properties in the Caribbean and got nothing in return, a court heard.
David Ames, 70, is accused of three counts of fraud by abuse of position as the company director of Harlequin Management Services South East Limited.
The former boss allegedly encouraged investors to purchase overseas properties in the Caribbean before they were built and then failed to give them anything in return, the court was told.
The prosecutors claim he persuaded the investors to sign contracts without revealing the true state of affairs at the company, causing a total loss of £226mn.
From 2006 to 2015, investors lost £398mn of their own savings and pensions, jurors at Prospero House crown court heard.
During that period Ames made massive profits, taking home £6.2mnn for himself and his close family.
He picked out potential developments in 15 locations, mainly in the Caribbean.
Only a refurbished hotel in St Lucia and the Buccament Bay development in St Vincent were partially completed.
Sarah Tricker, an accounts manager at HMSSE, told the court she was unaware of any fraudulent activity going on at the company and even put a deposit down for a property at Buccament Bay herself.
However, she was unable to complete the purchase because no mortgage was available.
"Was the reason you couldn’t complete because there was no mortgage available?," asked prosecutor Michael Bowes.
"Correct", Tricker replied.
"Had you bought your unit on the basis that a mortgage would be available?", he asked.
"Correct", she repeated.
When the company went into administration in May 2013, she was not told give details of the collapse. She told the court: "I knew obviously the cash flow was tight…but anything other than that wasn’t brought to my attention."
When Bowes asked whether the administrators "visited the office and took away records", she replied: "Correct."
Tricker managed the company accounts before it went into administration. She said she went to Buccament Bay with a colleague as there seemed to be problems with the accounts management.
Bowes asked: "When you got there, so far as you could tell, was anything going to plan?"
Tricker told the court "the hotel looked okay", but the finances did not. She said: "The reason we went out there was because we weren’t getting answers to our financial questions.
"The financial team there didn’t seem to know what they were doing so we ended up taking that on as well."
Tricker also said that she sometimes received calls from investors asking why the unit they purchased had not yet been completed. She passed these queries over to the sales team to deal with as it was not part of her role.
Bowes asked: "Was the position that sometimes money paid in by an investor was not used for the resort that the investor was buying in?"