A company called London Carbon Neutral Ltd and eight linked companies have been shut down in the High Court in London. The companies were shut down after “high pressure and intimidating sales people had targeted the elderly and vulnerable” to sell them carbon credits as investments.
Jon Austin, a journalist with the Daily Express, reported on the case from the High Court. London Carbon Neutral was selling carbon credits from the April Salumei project in Papua New Guinea. The price of the carbon credits was marked up anywhere between 174% to 872% on the amount London Carbon Neutral paid for them.
The court case focussed on how London Carbon Neutral targetted one couple, named in court as Mr and Mrs Speed. Having convinced them to buy carbon credits, the company’s sales team persuaded the couple to allow London Carbon Neutral to control their bank account and have post redirected to the company’s office in Croydon, Surrey.
Austin reports that the court heard that the Speeds handed over “around £2 million”. The Serious Fraud Office is investigating.
The April Salumei REDD project
The April Salumei REDD project is the only REDD project currently being carried out in Papua New Guinea. According to the project website, it covers 603,000 hectares, will run for 38 years, and is predicted to generate a total of 23.8 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent.
The project is registered as a Verified Carbon Standard project and certified under the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance Standard. Qantas, Eneco Energy Trade, and a Norwegian supermarket chain called Rema 1000, have bought carbon credits from the April Salumei REDD project.
April Salumei is one of the REDD projects on the USAID-supported Stand for Trees website, where you can buy REDD carbon credits for US$10 each:
Yesterday, the Guardian featured a long article about the April Salumei project and REDD: “The incredible plan to make money grow on trees”. Thanks to Stephen Hooper, the man running the April Salumei project, villagers just sit where they are, “and the money comes”.
The Guardian‘s reporter Sam Knight writes that,
So far, Hooper has sold around 200,000 tonnes to companies voluntarily offsetting their emissions and received about $300,000 in return.
World Markets bought 5,000,000 credits from April Salumei
Here’s an extract from a “Short Company Presentation” produced in 2013 by a company based in Switzerland called World Markets AG:
Does this mean that Hooper was lying when he told Sam Knight that he’d only sold 200,000 carbon credits from his project?
Not necessarily. When I asked Knight about this, he was under the impression that the project had sold a total of 200,000 credits, “so far”. But Knight wrote in his article that April Salumei had sold 200,000 credits to companies “voluntarily offsetting their emissions”.
World Markets didn’t buy the credits to offset its emissions. World Markets bought five million April Salumei credits as an investment. Nevertheless, it’s perhaps odd that Hooper didn’t think to mention this rather large sale of carbon credits.
In a company brochure, World Markets writes,
We anticipate their value rising further as the project becomes more actively marketed and achieves VCS standard. This represents a substantial increase from the book value which we anticipate increasing further as we engage actively in marketing these units. The development of our carbon sales will be an important part of our business development during 2013.
Trawling through World Markets’ Annual Reports we find that in 2011, the company bought 5,194,456 Carbon Benefit Units (CBUs). And we see that this cost the company CHF3,033,059:
Using an exchange rate of 31 December 2011, that’s US$3,227,040, or US$0.61 per credit.
World Markets sold all the carbon credits by the end of 2013. At a profit. Here’s an extract from the company’s 2013 Annual Report:
In 2013, World Markets sold its remaining 4,822,000 credits for US$8,042,580 (using an exchange rate of 31 December 2013), or US$1.67 each.
“The selling of the remaining carbon benefit units (“CBU”) held, allowed for attractive financial returns throughout the year,” wrote Dr David Haas, Chairman of World Markets, in the company’s 2013 Annual Report.
The boiler rooms
On 24 October 2013, REDD-Monitor wrote about a company called Industry RE that had been selling carbon credits to retail investors in the UK. Some of those carbon credits came from April Salumei. On 11 September 2013, the High Court in London had appointed Julie Palmer and Jason Greenhalgh of Begbies Traynor as joint liquidators of Industry RE, “on the application of the Secretary of State and following intervention from the Public Interest Unit”.
Which brings us back to Jon Austin’s article in the Daily Express. One of the seven companies shut down in the High Court was called EarthSky UK Ltd. Austin reports that EarthSky was “wound up over staggering accounting anomalies, including separate alleged missing amounts of $1 billion and $30 million.”
From EarthSky to Rainforest Project Management
The company that first attempted to set up the April Salumei REDD project was called EarthSky Limited.
EarthSky disappeared from the scene in 2008, after EarthSky and Climate Assist PNG offered US$8 million to PNG’s Office of Climate Change and Environment Sustainability in exchange for permission to develop REDD projects in the country.
In June 2010, Hooper’s company Rainforest Project Management Ltd submitted the April Salumei Sustainable Forest Management Project to the Climate, Community and Biodiversity Alliance. Rainforest Project Management’s registered office address in the British Virgin Islands is the same as that of EarthSky Ltd.
Here is EarthSky’s address (screenshot taken from a draft Project Design Document, dated December 2008):
And here is Rainforest Project Management’s address (screenshot taken from the Final CCBA Project Validation Report, carried out by SCS and dated May 2011):
Project update, June 2015
In June 2015, Rainforest Project Management Ltd sent a project update to the people unfortunate enough to have bought April Salumei Carbon Benefit Units from Industry RE. Towards the end of the letter, Rainforest Project Management states that, “This project update is not intended to provide investment or financial advice.”
The letter describes the progress made in the project area and with the VCS certification process. Then it explains that CBUs can be converted to VCUs (or VERs):
As described in the purchase application forms, each Carbon Benefit Unit (CBU) will be exchanged for a Verified Carbon Unit (VCU) once the April Salumei Project is approved under VCS. The first stage of the April Salumei Project has been approved, validated and verified.
The process to convert the CBU into a VER is straight forward. We have an electronic registry account that we administer. We simply list the VER’s required and retire it or transfer it upon your request and confirmation of your holdings.
Rainforest Project Management explains that only approved institutions, including project developers, can hold accounts on the VCS registry: “Therefore the Carbon Benefit Units can only be converted to Verified Carbon Units when they are sold to an approved entity or to be retired.”
Rainforest Project Management continues:
To assist with this process Rainforest Project Management Ltd (“RPML”) will continue to work with IFSKY who will maintain the record of your CBU ownership. Once your CBU has been sold to an entity that has an approved VCS account or is to be retired as a carbon offset, your CBU can be converted into a VCU.
This transaction will be recorded as such on the IFSKY registry and RPML will transfer the matching VCU to the new owner on the VCS approved registry once the VCS listing fees (current US$ 0.15 per VCU) are paid
by the CBU holder.
Rainforest Project Management explains that the IFSKY registry is “an independent registry services provider”. It is run by a company called IFIT (the Insitute for Innovative Trading). IFIT shares a board member (Rolf H Küng) with World Markets. And in the 2013 “Short Company Presentation”, World Markets’ Registered Office was c/o IFIT Fund Services AG, and the mailing address was IFIT’s office address: