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First Serious Fraud Office (SFO) case comes to trial under the Bribery Act involving the mis-selling of investment products connected to SIPPs

December 2014

Three City directors were sentenced at Southwark Crown Court to 28 years imprisonment in total for a fraud amounting to £23m following the SFO’s investigation and prosecution of Sustainable Growth Group and its subsidiary companies, Sustainable AgroEnergy plc and Sustainable Wealth (UK) Investments Ltd. The sentencing followed guilty verdicts by a jury.

All three directors were convicted following a prosecution which focused on the selling and promotion of investment products based on green biofuel Jatropha tree plantations in Cambodia. The green biofuel products were sold to UK investors who invested primarily through self-invested pension plans (“SIPPs”). These investors were deliberately misled into believing that the companies operated by the directors owned land in Cambodia, that the land was planned with Jatropha trees, and that there was an insurance policy in place to protect investors if the crops failed.

Mr. Justice Beddoe described the fraud as a “thickening quagmire of dishonesty . . . 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 noted that bribery was an aggravating feature in the case.

Between them the three directors were convicted of:

  • Conspiracy to commit fraud by false misrepresentation contrary to s.1 of the Criminal Law Act 1977.
  • Fraudulent trading contrary to s.993 of the Companies Act 2006.
  • Bribery contrary to s.1and s.2 of the Bribery Act 2010.
  • Conspiracy to furnish false information contrary to s.1 of the Criminal Act 1977.

Legal proceedings have commenced for compensation and confiscation orders against the three convicted defendants.

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Note: This is a general briefing and not an exhaustive treatment of the subject.