The man behind a £226 million fraud affecting thousands of British victims was today jailed at Southwark Crown Court for 12 years following an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
David Ames, 70, fraudulently abused his position as Chairman of the Harlequin business, exposing over 8,000 investors to huge losses between 2010 and 2015. His conviction on 3rd August was the fourth successful prosecution of an individual by the SFO since May this year.
Victims parted with pensions and life savings, believing that their money would be invested in holiday properties in St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Barbados and other Caribbean nations. In reality, the scheme had no external funding and never delivered what was promised. Almost no properties were ever constructed and 99 percent of those who invested made no return.
Devastating impact on victims
Ames sold to a large number of people with Self-Invested Personal Pensions (“SIPPs”) before regulations were tightened in 2012, many of them elderly with little investing experience. The SFO presented the court with victim statements, detailing the personal impact suffered by these investors.
Countless investors were forced to delay their retirement, having lost their pensions and life savings. Many victims continue to struggle with financial hardship, some having re-mortgaged their homes and continuing to repay 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.
The SFO advocated that a lengthy prison sentence be given to Mr Ames. Not only did Ames cause financial and long-term harm to thousands of victims, but his offending was aggravated by a failure 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.
SFO investigators uncovered that Ames had enriched his family by £6.2 million through the Harlequin Group. 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.
Delivering the sentence, HH Judge Hehir said, “You were clearly far more interested in pocketing investors’ money than in ensuring those investors were getting what they were paying for”.
He said, “You were a slick and plausible salesman and thoroughly dishonest with it… You are a menace to anybody unfortunate enough to do business with you”.
He went on to praise a “thorough and diligent investigation” by the SFO.
Ames was led from the dock and remanded in custody.
Lisa Osofsky, Director, Serious Fraud Office, said: “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.”
This year, successful SFO prosecutions have resulted in four convicted fraudsters being sentenced to a total of 48 years in prison.