Brian Sims

Harlequin resorts boss jailed in wake of extensive SFO investigation

THE MAN behind a £226 million fraud affecting thousands of British victims has been jailed for a period of 12 years following a trial at Southwark Crown Court initiated following an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO). David Ames, aged 70, fraudulently abused his position as chair of the Harlequin business, exposing over 8,000 investors to huge losses between 2010 and 2015.

Victims parted with their 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 behind it and never delivered what was promised. Almost no properties were ever constructed and 99% of those individuals who chose to invest made no return on their outlay.

Devastating impact

Ames sold to a large number of people with Self-Invested Personal Pensions before regulations were tightened in 2012. Many of those individuals were elderly and harboured little in the way of investment experience. The SFO presented the Jury at Southwark Crown Court with victim statements, detailing the personal impact suffered by these investors.

Countless investors were forced to delay their retirement as a result of having lost their pensions and life savings. Many victims continue to struggle with financial hardship, some of them having re-mortgaged their homes and necessarily continuing to repay outstanding debts.

The Judge and presiding Jury at Southwark Crown Court heard how this led to breakdowns in some investors’ relationships and rifts within families. Various health conditions are suspected to have been induced by stress, anxiety and depression arising from these investments.

Aggravating factors

The SFO advocated that a lengthy prison sentence be given to 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 received 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 the fact 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 booked into expensive hotels. Ames even employed a personal chauffeur.

Delivering the sentence, His Honour Judge Hehir said to Ames: “You were clearly far more interested in pocketing investors’ money than in ensuring those investors were receiving what they were paying for. 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.”

His Honour Judge Hehir went on to praise a “thorough and diligent investigation” having been conducted by the SFO.

Ames was led from the dock and remanded in custody.

Fundamental duty

Lisa Osofsky, director of the Serious Fraud Office, observed: “Those who are trusted with investors’ money have a fundamental duty to safeguard the interests of those investors. As this sentencing shows, we will not tolerate those who abuse that trust and show contempt for their victims and the law, while also squandering other people’s money for their own gain.”

Already in 2022, successful SFO prosecutions have resulted in four convicted fraudsters being sentenced to a total of 48 years behind bars.

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