By Chris Lang
In December 2014, three men were sentenced in Southwark Crown Court in the UK to a total of 28 years for their involvement in a £23 million biofuel investment fraud. While handing down the sentence, judge Martin Beddoe described the fraud as a “thickening quagmire of dishonesty”.
The sentences followed an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into Sustainable Growth Group and its subsidiaries Sustainable AgroEnergy plc and Sustainable Wealth (UK) Investments Ltd.
Sustainable AgroEnergy sold investment products based on “green oil” jatropha plantations in Cambodia. REDD-Monitor wrote about the unravelling of Sustainable AgroEnergy‘s jatropha investment scheme in March 2014.
The Serious Fraud Office press release about the sentence explains that,
The green biofuel products were sold to UK investors who invested primarily via self-invested pension plans (SIPPs). 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.
The sentences were as follows:
- Gary Lloyd West, of Hertfordshire, former Director and Chief Commercial Officer of SAE was sentenced to a total of 13 years’ imprisonment.
- James Brunel Whale, of Sussex, former Director, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of SGG was sentenced to a total of 9 years’ imprisonment.
- 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 6 years’ imprisonment.
By 2011, Sustainable AgroEnergy’s farming programme was “a shambles”
According to a report of the case on Fulcrum Chambers’ website, the directors of Sustainable Growth Group were initially involved in “an honest attempt to sell pensions investment products based on biofuel farming projects”.
I’m not convinced that’s true. A company called Viceroy Invest was selling investments in Sustainable Growth Group’s jatropha plantations. In this 2009 brochure the company was offering too-good-to-be-true returns of “up to 93% a year”. That doesn’t sound much like “an honest attempt to sell pensions investment products” to me.
Fulcrum Chambers’ report of the case states that, by 2011 Sustainable Growth Group had “run into difficulties”. The defence admitted that its farming programme was “a shambles”. The judge found that by the end of July 2011, Gary West and James Whale “could have had no honest belief that the company was viable.”
Yet they continued selling investment products and lied to investors about the company’s finances.
They managed to get help from a member of the House of Lords. In May 2011, Lord Laird of Artigarvan hosted a promotion for Sustainable Growth Group in the House of Lords. Here’s a photograph of Lord Laird shaking hands with James Whale. Fryett is standing next to Whale.
Conservation Central Network and Sustainable Growth Group
In March 2011, Sustainable Growth Group appears in a brochure put out by an Adelaide-based outfit then called Carbon Conservation Network, now renamed as Conservation Central Network. REDD-Monitor wrote about the company, and its investment scheme that looks remarkably like a pyramid scam, in February 2015.
Carbon Conservation Network’s 2011 brochure includes a photograph of CCN’s office in Adelaide. That’s it on the left, with the big sign announcing CCN to the world (or at least to passersby Greenhill Road). And on the right is a photograph from Greenhill Executive’s website. Greenhill Executive offers a variety of serviced and virtual offices.
Such trivialities don’t worry the likes of Lord Laird. In May 2012, he held another event in the House of Lords “to showcase the rainforest conservation projects that CCN sponsor,” according to Conservation Central Network. Here’s Lord Laird giving a speech during the meal, with CCN’s co-founder Erminio Kotlar looking on:
The brochure announces a partnership between CCN and Sustainable Growth Group:
Pretty impressive. 10 million carbon credits, with a projected sale value of €100 million. And all from a company whose directors, only a few months later, “could have had no honest belief that the company was viable.”
In March 2013, Gregg Fryett, Sustainable AgroEnergy’s director, was arrested in Cambodia and has been held in Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar Prison since then. Fryett denies the fraud allegations and claims that he was framed.
In November 2014, Gregg Fryett wrote a statement about the relationship between Sustainable Growth Group and Conservation Central Network. Someone called “Natalia” posted it on Scribd, where it’s been viewed more than 105,000 times. Below that is CCN’s response (available in full here). CCN accuses journalist Antonio Papaleo of forging the document. I think it’s safe to say that the quagmire continues to thicken.
Gregg Fryett, Forged Statement of Untruth.
- Gregg Fryett is currently in a Cambodian jail for fraud and is wanted in the UK for Fraud as well as the Philippines. His directors of one of his companies are now serving heavy 10+ year sentences for the fraud they committed. Fryett being in a Cambodian jail is yet to be convicted in the UK, unlike his fellow ex directors, James Whale and co.
- Gregg Fryett offered to fund CCN to set up and sales and marketing division for his SGG company. A sum of $100,000 was agreed to with and extortionate 50% interest rate over 1 year. He agreed to 4 x $25,000 payments over 3 months He deliberately withheld the money and took over 6 months to pay over the money. His stalling tactics were a ruse to give him time to try various ways to gain control of CCN.
- Despite Fryett’s underhanded actions he tried on CCN and the substantial losses he caused, it was decided not withhold payment or sue him and the $100,000 was paid back. It was our view he had no right to any interest because of his actions and substantial losses incurred. He was lucky we didn’t keep the $100,000 and sue him for specific performance on supply.
- Greg Fryett SGG’s people forged Agus Sari signature on supply agreements and promissory notes for carbon credits along with his employee Brain McEwen and James Whale.
- CCN was forced to try and finish the projects in the Philippines which it had invested in but Fryett interfered and the project was put on hold. The land owners approached CCN to help them try and finish the project because Fryett had left them without money to develop the project. CCN was put in a position where it had to incur the addition expense of obtaining Carbon Credits from Peru to cover its obligations that Fryett failed to cover.
- CCN has never made any allegations in relation to Gregg Fryett to any authorities at any time because it did not want to become entangled in any of that sort drama, CCN management did not have the time or resources to get involved with government departments in the UK on a witch hunt.
- The statement of untruth is not signed by Gregg Fryett and his signature on the document is clearly copied and pasted from note paper because Greg Fryett never signed off on such a document why ? Antonio never paid to Fryett the promised payment / bribe and press exposure to help Fryetts current efforts to get out of jail in Cambodia.
- Antonio Papaleo pieced together this forged unauthorised statement and is now complicit in Fero’s criminal defamation actions against CCN.