By Chris Lang
When the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority took Capital Alternatives and several other companies to the High Court in 2013, Renwick Haddow and the other people behind the scams did not stop scamming. Instead, they moved their operations to Dubai.
One of the Dubai companies was called Platinum Commodities. The company’s website boasted “a broad range of established and new investments – in sectors such as forestry and farmland, gold bullion and coins, other precious metals and materials, commercial property and clean technology”.
Robin Berlyn was the director of Platinum Commodities. Berlyn is a former grenadier guard, who after leaving the army had several jobs, including as a bodyguard for politicians and members of the royal family.
He then worked as a broker for Capital Alternatives in London. In 2013, Haddow offered him the job of running Platinum Commodities. “I didn’t know it then,” Berlyn says, “but Renwick was a crook. He was setting up the new company as a fraud operation and I was being positioned to take the blame when it all went wrong.”
“Renwick was a crook”
Actually, it wouldn’t have taken much research for Berlyn to realise that Haddow was a scam artist. In 2017, REDD-Monitor wrote a brief summary of Haddow’s career – much of the information was available in 2013:
Haddow was banned from being a director in the UK in 2008. That was for his role in a company called Branded Leisure plc. Investors lost everything. In fact, most of Haddow’s more than 70 companies have failed.
The Capital Alternatives network offered a series of investments such as rice farm harvests in Sierra Leone, and carbon credits from Sierra Leone, Brazil, and Australia. The investments turned out to be fake. Nevertheless, the companies involved raised a total of at least US$180 million from retail investors.
In 2012, Ceri Jones wrote an article in Money Observer about one of Haddow’s investment scams, called Room to Invest. Jones spoke to an investor called Andrew Durrant who in 2009 had handed over £3,900 to buy a fraction of a hotel in Slovenia. Capital Alternatives sold him the investment.
In 2011, Capital Alternatives wrote to Durrant to tell him that Room to Invest had turned out to be a bad investment. Capital Alternatives suggested transferring his money to Agri Capital, that was investing in farming land in Sierra Leone. Capital Alternatives asked for a further £1,950 from Durrant for this new “investment”.
The Money Observer article is critical of Room to Invest, and the rest of Renwick Haddow’s scam network of companies. “Caveat emptor, or buyer beware, is a warning that is particularly applicable to investment schemes such as those promoted by Capital Alternatives,” Jones writes.
In March 2013, Andrew Penman, investigative journalist at The Mirror, wrote about another company in the Capital Alternative network, Capital Carbon Credits. His headline was “Danger: green investment from Capital Carbon Credits”.
In July 2013, the Financial Conduct Authority took out a case against two Capital Alternatives companies, Agri Capital and Capital Carbon Credits, accusing them of running illegal collective investment schemes.
By 2013, in other words, had he looked Berlyn would have found plenty of evidence that Haddow was a serial fraudster.
Berlyn in Dubai
Berlyn was CEO of Platinum Commodities. He signed the contracts and the cheques. Berlyn describes the Dubai operation as follows:
“The staff turnover was very high. That was my first clue. And then customers started turning up to the office asking for money because the cheques I had issued them were bouncing. I found out later that Renwick and the other boss, Kristan Gander were siphoning off the money for themselves.
“They gave me one excuse after another as to why the clients wouldn’t get their money. I had very little money and nowhere else to go, I had to hope they were being straight with me. I just couldn’t leave, or the staff wouldn’t get paid. Some of them had come from the UK to work there and although I tried my best, I got no support and the operation was a shambles.”
Berlyn makes a brief appearance in Khadija Sharife’s 2015 investigation into the Capital Alternatives network, “Catch and Release,” published by World Policy Journal:
At some point, [Kristan] Gander appears to have wrested Platinum Commodities from its original director, Robin Berlin [sic], allocating new staff and a new direction into VOIP, platinum, properties, and other commodities. For his part, Berlin was perceived as relatively honest by investors. Platinum Commodities, under his control, was the only company to receive a license to trade in Dubai.
Kristan Gander, Sharife writes, was “Haddow’s right hand in the organization”.
Sharife got hold of recordings of Sam Taylor, a broker with Platinum Commodities, talking to a potential investor. The spiel is the same as the one Capital Alternatives used to try to convince Andrew Durrant to move his investment from Room to Invest to Agri Capital.
Sharife notes that Taylor coughs a lot, and suggests he might be “nervous at the obviousness of the scam”:
“Platinum, as a whole, decided to buy out Agri Firma, inheriting all your details; the human capital has been deployed all over the world. Your assets will be managed through us as brokers.”
“Things aren’t looking good, balance sheet-wise for the land you bought into … subject to a low currency, huge irrigations systems … Decreased returns put the asset under stress. It doesn’t look like they are going to get out of the woods. They’re going to need to invest in technology, irrigation. Do you know what irrigation is? … The value of the land isn’t doing too well either.”
“We’re going to get you out of the woods. Well, not get you out of it, but take on the land ourselves, with our own teams. Not digging and harvesting, but you know, we can absorb the cost. We don’t think Agri Firma can handle it. It is looking like dysfunctional assets. It can be saved, but it is going to need us.”
Taylor asks the investor to invest in a “corporate bond” to keep his “investment liquid”. It would cost the investor as much as his initial investment.
Berlyn describes the end of his time at Platinum Commodities:
“Then one day near the end of 2014, a client came into the office with the police. I got arrested of course. The owners were not in the country and I had to take the blame for all the money they had been stealing. I had never run a business before. I just didn’t see it coming.”
Berlyn was charged with issuing cheques that bounced, which is a criminal offence in the United Arab Emirates. He served a 16 month sentence. After being released from jail, a client sued him for more than £100,000. Berlyn’s passport is confiscated until the legal case is settled. Because of the case he cannot get a visa to work in Dubai.
Berlyn’s dramatic escape attempt
A couple of weeks ago, Berlyn tried to escape UAE by swimming two miles offshore from Sambrid Beach at night. He made it to Oman, but then fell 10 metres down a cliff face and badly injured his knee. Omani police picked him up and returned him to Dubai. Berlyn was hoping he would be deported to the UK.
Berlyn is being supported by a UK campaign organisation, Detained in Dubai. The organisation’s founder, Radha Stirling, says that Berlyn “was hired in Dubai to be a scapegoat”. The quotations from Berlyn in this post come from Detained in Dubai’s website. According to Detained in Dubai, Berlyn suffers post-traumatic stress disorder, and has thought about suicide “many times”. His room rent has run out. He has no money. He needs an operation on his leg. He has a grandson he’s never seen, and his mother is very ill. His fiancée despairs of ever being reunited with him.
On 3 February 2015 Kristan Gander, Haddow’s “right hand” in the Capital Alternatives network, left a message via the contact form on REDD-Monitor. He asked for his name and that of Maria Barnard to be removed from the comments on REDD-Monitor. He accused Berlyn of writing the comments:
I do know who started these blogs about me and Maria and it has come from a man called Robin Berlyn, he has started a campaign against me and Maria since we reported him to the Dubai police in September 2014. Since then he has been writing untruths on a number of different blog sites.