City directors sentenced to 28 years behind bars for £23 million green biofuel fraud

Posted On 16 Dec 2014
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hThree men have been sentenced at Southwark Crown Court as a result of the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation and prosecution of Sustainable Growth Group (‘SGG’) including its subsidiary companies Sustainable AgroEnergy plc (‘SAE’) and Sustainable Wealth (UK) Investments Ltd (‘SWI’).

All three were convicted following a prosecution which focused on the selling and promotion of SAE investment products based on “green biofuel” Jatropha tree plantations in Cambodia.

The green biofuel products were sold to UK investors who invested primarily via self-invested pension plans. These investors were deliberately misled into believing that SAE owned land in Cambodia, that the land was planted with Jatropha trees and that there was an insurance policy in place to protect investors if the crops failed.

*Gary Lloyd West (of Hertfordshire, the former director and chief commercial officer of SAE) was sentenced to a total of 13 years’ imprisonment

West was convicted of:
*Conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation contrary to Section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 (Count 1)
*Fraudulent trading contrary to Section 993 of the Companies Act 2006 (Count 2)
*Conspiracy to furnish false information contrary to Section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 (Count 3)
*Two counts of bribery contrary to Section 2(1) and (2) of the Bribery Act 2010 (Counts 5 and 7)

West was acquitted by the Jury of one count of bribery contrary to Section 1(1) and (2) of the Bribery Act 2010 (Count 8)

*James Brunel Whale (of Sussex, the former director, CEO and chairman of SGG) was sentenced to a total of nine years’ imprisonment

Whale was convicted of:
*Conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation contrary to Section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 (Count 1)
*Fraudulent trading contrary to Section 993 of the Companies Act 2006 (Count 2)

*Stuart John Stone (of Shropshire, director of SJ Stone Ltd, a sales agent of unregulated pension and investment products) was sentenced to a total of six years’ imprisonment

Stone was convicted of:
*Conspiracy to furnish false information contrary to Section 1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 (Count 3)
*Two counts of Bribery contrary to Section 1(1) and (2) of the Bribery Act 2010 (Counts 4 and 6)

A fourth defendant was acquitted by the Jury of all the charges against him.

Both West and Whale have been disqualified from being directors for 15 years while Stone has been disqualified for ten years.

“Thickening quagmire of dishonesty”

When handing down sentencing, Judge Beddoe described the fraud as a “thickening quagmire of dishonesty” and that “there were more than 250 victims of relatively modest means, some of whom had lost all of their life savings and their homes.”

The Judge added that the bribery was an aggravating feature.

Jane de Lozey – the Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO) head of fraud – commented: “This is the first of a number of SFO cases to come to trial involving the miss-selling of investment products connected with self-invested pension plans in which savers on modest incomes have tried to invest for their retirement only to find themselves the victims of fraud. Pension scams can be difficult to detect even for experienced investors. The SFO is working closely with partner agencies across law enforcement to tackle this type of serious economic crime.”

Also commenting on the verdict, David Green CB QC (director of the SFO) – said: “These three individuals preyed on investors, many of whom were duped into investing life savings and pension funds. As a result, many lost life-changing amounts of money. This successful conclusion of the SFO’s investigation clearly demonstrates the harm that this type of investment fraud has on victims and the SFO’s ability and determination to bring criminals to justice.”

West and Stone’s charges and convictions under the Bribery Act 2010 are the first to be secured by the SFO since the Act came into law in July 2011. The Act, which is not retrospective, applies to the whole of the UK and provides for wide extra-territorial jurisdiction to deal with bribery committed outside the UK.

Legal proceedings have now commenced to establish compensation and confiscation orders against the three defendants.

 

About the Author
Brian Sims BA (Hons) Hon FSyI, Editor, Risk UK (Pro-Activ Publications) Beginning his career in professional journalism at The Builder Group in March 1992, Brian was appointed Editor of Security Management Today in November 2000 having spent eight years in engineering journalism across two titles: Building Services Journal and Light & Lighting. In 2005, Brian received the BSIA Chairman’s Award for Promoting The Security Industry and, a year later, the Skills for Security Special Award for an Outstanding Contribution to the Security Business Sector. In 2008, Brian was The Security Institute’s nomination for the Association of Security Consultants’ highly prestigious Imbert Prize and, in 2013, was a nominated finalist for the Institute's George van Schalkwyk Award. An Honorary Fellow of The Security Institute, Brian serves as a Judge for the BSIA’s Security Personnel of the Year Awards and the Securitas Good Customer Award. Between 2008 and 2014, Brian pioneered the use of digital media across the security sector, including webinars and Audio Shows. Brian’s actively involved in 50-plus security groups on LinkedIn and hosts the popular Risk UK Twitter site. Brian is a frequent speaker on the conference circuit. He has organised and chaired conference programmes for both IFSEC International and ASIS International and has been published in the national media. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk UK at Pro-Activ Publications in July 2014 and as Editor of The Paper (Pro-Activ Publications' dedicated business newspaper for security professionals) in September 2015. Brian was appointed Editor of Risk Xtra at Pro-Activ Publications in May 2018.