After what has been described as a “complex and painstaking investigation” into the accounts, lifestyles and business practices of a couple of conmen, the UK’s first criminal convictions and prison sentences for a land banking fraud were secured last week.
Omar Eshpari and Stefan Mitchell were sentenced to seven and six years respectively, having been found guilty of five counts of money laundering after masterminding a £3m deception, conning the elderly and vulnerable into buying plots of land that were either worthless or massively over-priced.
The criminals set up a string of fraudulent companies and sold land bought cheaply in Halifax, Folkestone and Bromley or plots they did not even own,
then marketed the locations as being in a prime position for development that would quickly increase in value.
In reality investors were putting their money into plots located on farmland, in the Green Belt, within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or on the sides of hills, with no chance of gaining planning permission let alone building houses.
Some investors received small returns while others lost everything, with the gang funnelling off the funds into a network of bank accounts, which took investigators a long time to track.
By late 2009 more and more investors were becoming concerned about the lack of returns from Pemberton International, Eldon International, Willow International, Allied Investment and Abacus Investment and were increasingly asking for their money back.
However, following reports from numerous victims and a detailed City of London Police investigation, working closely with agencies including Companies Investigation Branch and the Financial Services Authority a series of arrests were made in October 2009.
Further investigations were carried out into their pair’s bank and company accounts to be used in evidence and the weight of information gleaned gained the convictions, sending out a clear message to the criminal fraternity that no stone will be left unturned to find their ill-gotten gains.
As an accountant; Roger Isaacs specialises within forensic accounting.