By Chris Lang
On 14 June 2022, Andrew Skeene and Omari Bowers were each sentenced at Southwark Crown Court to 11 years in prison. Skeene and Bowers were behind a green investment scam called Global Forestry Investments.
About 2,000 people were scammed out of their savings and pensions. In a statement, the Serious Fraud Office explains that,
The fraudulent duo encouraged victims to invest in three Brazilian teak tree plantations, claiming they were secure, well-managed, ethical investments that would help protect the Amazon rainforest and support local communities. In reality, little-to-nothing was happening on the ground and the pair enriched themselves with the finances they received.
Skeene and Bowers were convicted for the US$37 million scam in May 2022. (This post includes links to some of the posts that REDD-Monitor has written about the Global Forestry Investments scam.)
“Compelling evidence” of fraud
Judge Jeffrey Pegden handed down the sentences. Pegden told Skeene and Bowers that,
“You were both convicted by unanimous verdict of the jury. It has to be said you were convicted on the basis of compelling evidence.
“Having heard the evidence in this case over many many weeks, I have no doubt that your schemes were fraudulent from mid 2012 at the latest.
“In my judgement your culpability is high. You were the ones who lied.
“You two devised, operated and controlled three Brazilian investment schemes between 2010 and 2015. Those schemes took in over £35 million and you lost most of the money.
“The funds were received by you from investors. They were passed through complex companies.
“You used nominees to conceal that you were the beneficiaries of the scheme… The investors believed they would get a safe and steady income but what you wrote or said were either false from the outset or became false and misleading.
“After the company went into liquidation you deliberately assisted in deceiving the authorities. You made determined efforts to prolong the frauds and obtain more investor money.”
The judge commended the “exceptional investigatory work” of two Serious Fraud Office investigators. Richard Middleditch carried out “invaluable analysis” of extensive communications between the defendants, and Richard Mills carried out a “meticulous money tracing exercise”.
Lisa Osofsky, Director of the Serious Fraud Office, said:
“Today’s sentencing warns fraudsters that if they choose to play fast and loose with others’ hard-earned savings or pensions, we will pursue them and they will be held accountable for their crimes.
“This is the first of seven cases we are taking to trial this year. Over the next six months we will prosecute a further 18 defendants for alleged fraud, valued at over £500 million.”
Money does not grow on trees
Skeene and Bowers registered the company GFI Consultants Ltd. on 13 April 2010. On 28 April 2010, Global Forestry Investments held an “Open Evening for a night of Champagne and Canapés”. Global Forestry Investments claimed that investors would receive a return of between 10 and 20% per annum.
In a promotional video for the investment scam, Bowers said that,
“People say money does not grow on trees but it does, because each time a tree is thinned that is a tangible asset. It’s actually worth something.”
By 2014, Global Forestry Investments had collapsed.
Luxurious lifestyles for Skeene and Bowers
The Serious Fraud Office’s investigations, which started in 2015, found that Skeene and Bowers had withdrawn about £750,000 in cash, and spent a further £2 million of investors’ money on their luxurious lifestyles.
Skeene used investors’ money for his lavish wedding, and Bowers bought a Bentley Continental GT.
Victims suffered “emotional and psychological harm”
Victim impact statements were read out in court. One victim suffered “emotional and psychological harm” after losing £25,000 to the scam. He had to delay his investment.
“I feel violated. I refuse to allow anyone into my house in fear of being duped again.” another victim said.
In its press statement, the Serious Fraud Office writes that, “Confiscation proceedings will take place at a later date.”