On 25 February 2014, police arrested 110 people suspected of being involved in boiler rooms. The City of London Police put out a press release announcing that, “A groundbreaking partnership between UK and Spanish law enforcement agencies has led to a total of 110 arrests”.
The arrests followed a two-year investigation, code-named “Operation Rico”. Police raided 35 offices and private addresses and arrested 84 people in Spain, 20 in the UK, four in Serbia, and two in the USA.
The City of London Police press release states that,
An unprecedented international police operation across the UK and Spain, other parts of Europe and the United States has targeted suspected masterminds of boiler room operations which are believed to be responsible for millions of pounds of investment fraud.
It was reported widely in the media. The BBC reported that,
Among those under investigation were 10 “tier one criminals” with alleged links to organised crime and drugs, detectives said. Nine of them are British; one is South African.
At the time, I thought the authorities were finally taking some meaningful action to close down boiler rooms. Unfortunately, it seems I was completely wrong.
Two-and-a-half years after the arrests, David Marchant of OffshoreAlert has taken a look at what happened since this “unprecendented international police operation”.
He concludes that Operation Rico was little more than Operation PR:
Of the 110 people who were arrested in the raids on February 28th, 2014, I can find evidence that only four were convicted of any crimes and those convictions all took place in the US, whose role in Operation Rico was minimal.
Adriana Camargo, Naadir Cassim, Jon Nelson, and Michael Skillern were jailed for stealing US$7 million from investors. The boiler room scam promised to mine gold in Nevada and Montana. Most of the victims were British.
John Ellis, the head of the Operation Rico investigation team at the City of London Police, said in a statement that,
“The imprisonment of these individuals shows how international law enforcement can work together to dismantle investment frauds that continue to target UK citizens.”
Sounds good. But when OffshoreAlert’s Marchant tried to find out from the UK police whether anyone else had been convicted he didn’t get much help. He phoned the National Crime Agency and asked to speak to Stephanie Jeavons. The NCA employee who picked up the phone told Marchant that for security reasons he could neither confirm nor deny whether anyone with that name worked at the NCA.
Marchant didn’t do any better when he phoned the City of London Police. He asked Adam French, Media and Communications Officer, to confirm the date of birth and full name of one of the British people arrested in Spain. French told Marchant that he was prohibited from helping him.
Marchant sent an email asking (among other things) how many people had been charged and/or convicted in the UK as a result of Operation Rico. French didn’t reply.
Database searches by OffshoreAlert and French’s silence suggest that, remarkably, the City of London’s conviction tally from its self-described “most important investigation ever” is precisely zero.
With a track record like that, British investment fraudsters operating in Marbella and other exotic foreign places can collectively enjoy their Strawberry Daiquiris and caviar, instead of choking on them. They have the added benefit of using Britain’s crime-friendly defamation laws to deter journalists from even writing about the activities that British law enforcement fail to prosecute. When it comes to combating global investment fraud, the UK is part of the problem, not the solution.