David Ames, the Harlequin boss behind a £226mn fraud affecting thousands of British victims, has been sentenced to 12 years in prison.
The sentencing took place on Friday (September 30) at Southwark Crown Court following an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) and Ames’s conviction in August of two counts of fraud by abuse of position.
The SFO advocated that a lengthy prison sentence be given to Ames after he exposed more than 8,000 investors to huge losses between 2010 and 2015 by encouraging investors to purchase overseas properties in the Caribbean before they were built.
Victims, largely self-invested personal pension holders, parted with life savings, believing that their money would be invested in holiday property but failed to receive anything in return.
An aggravating factor, the SFO argued, was that Ames failed to respond to at least eight warnings about the Harlequin businesses from business associates, financial professionals and authorities.
Ames was also found to have wrongly attempted to place the blame on his associates and lied to investors on numerous occasions.
Delivering the sentence, HH Judge Hehir described Ames as a “menace to anybody unfortunate enough to do business with [him]”.
“You were clearly far more interested in pocketing investors’ money than in ensuring those investors were getting what they were paying for,” HH Judge Hehir said.
“You were a slick and plausible salesman and thoroughly dishonest with it.”
SFO director, Lisa Osofsky said the sentencing showed abuse of investors’ trust will not be tolerated.
“Those who are trusted with investors’ money have a fundamental duty to safeguard the interests of those investors.
“As today’s sentencing shows, we will not tolerate those who abuse that trust, showing contempt for their victims and the law while squandering other people’s money for their own gain,” she said.
Many of Ames’s victims were elderly with little investing experience.
The SFO presented the court with victim statements, detailing the personal impact suffered by these investors.
Many were forced to delay their retirement, having lost their pensions and life savings.
Many others continue to struggle with financial hardship, some having re-mortgaged their homes and are still repaying outstanding debts.
The court heard how this led to breakdowns in some investors’ relationships, rifts within families and various health conditions suspected to have been induced by stress, anxiety and depression.
Meanwhile Ames had enriched his family by £6.2mn through the Harlequin Group.
The SFO detailed that he and his family took frequent holidays to exotic destinations, travelled in business class and stayed in expensive hotels. Ames even employed a personal chauffeur.
In addition to the 12 year prison sentence, Ames was also disqualified as a company director for 15 years.