“After a phenomenal year of progress at Green Planet, all eyes now turn to 2012 and the commencement of building work of villas at the White Sands Country Club. We’re delighted to give you a sneak preview of the varying villa designs available to our clients. We are very proud to have aligned ourselves with world-renowned architects, HCP. With projects worldwide we’re sure you’ll agree the superior quality is there for all to see. Using the best materials and techniques the villas at White Sands will be the envy of the region.”
That inspiring message came from the website of UK and Gibraltar companies, both called Green Planet Investment Limited. But those who piled money into the venture might just as well have pulped their pound notes. Green Planet delivered nothing.
There were no villas.
A multi-million pound scam
The firm, now wound up in the public interest took £14 million from investors.
Those investers were promised “intensive and meticulous research utilising satellite, cadastral demographic and available census data – in conjunction with municipal and domestic Spatial Development Plans – [which] enables Green Planet to predict future investment trends into international emerging and green-field development markets. This, in conjunction with the Board of Directors’ wealth of specialist knowledge and experience in the arena, leads to excellent property investment opportunities whilst retaining solid rationale. In short: Minimum Risk, Maximum Return”.
But the venture never went past those initial architectural plans.
How the victims were conned
I have warned previously about people cold calling with offers of amazing property investments in Brazil, usually based on a mix of the World Cup, the Olympics and Brazil's position as the biggest and most successful South American economy. None of this means property prices will soar or, in the case of Green Planet, that the promised development will even be built.
Now Green Planet, which according to the Insolvency Service used former Manchester United and England footballer Lee Sharpe to market its Brazilian property investment scheme, has been ordered into liquidation in the High Court in London.
This follows an Insolvency Service probe which found sales people persuaded nearly 300 investors they were dealing with a large UK registered bank. Using boiler room techniques, they promised 20-30% returns on plots of land and off-plan apartments at three sites in Brazil. Some were victims of cold calling. Others fell for the old trick of the “educational seminar” with a free gift. This turned out to be a hard sales session – the gift was a glass of cheap fizzy wine.
Green Planet claimed it was an expert in the international property market and had undertaken significant due diligence in relation to the sites. But the only due diligence was in studying how to rip off consumers.
Where did the money go?
So where did all the money go? Some of it went to Brent Jolly, the main director. He is also a director of carbon credit company Anglo-Capital Partners Ltd which was ordered into liquidation by the court on grounds of public interest in October.
Much of the rest went to the 140 sales people who were engaged by Green Planet – it was a big call centre operation. The hustlers were attracted by adverts such as: “Crisis? What crisis? 222% Growth Year on Year. Land, Property, Carbon Credits – Junior Broker, Senior Broker and Trainee Sales Positions. £18,000 - £250,000 p.a. (All depends how good you are).”
[SPOTLIGHT]Targeting boiler room operatives in particular, a second jobs advert said: “International Group incorporated in four worldwide locations with its UK PLC headquarters in five-story (sic) luxury offices in Soho Square are (sic) recruiting 20 sales positions due to exceptional business expansion.
“You might have experience in selling wine, land, stocks and shares, financial services, precious stones, carpets, carbon credit brokering, business-to-business service industry telemarketing or a variety of other disciplines. Fluent in another language? It can add £50,000 p.a. onto your annual take-home.”
Investors were given completion dates for the properties. But Jolly admitted to the court that no building work ever started.
In court, the judge, Mr Registrar Nicholls said: “Green Planet displayed a lack of commercial probity by making misleading and/or unfounded statements, in respect of the investment opportunity, its experience, due diligence carried out and that planning permission had been obtained.”
Green Planet boasted of links to two charities – one for the parents of children with disabilities and a second involved in tree projects. The website also had some hilarious testimonials, probably written by employees. My favourite (from Alison) is: “Great guys! They took me for a nice lunch. I am pleased to recommend.”
This was closely followed by Charles who apparently said: “My enquiry following an email to me advertising property was followed up within two hours. My broker talked me through the investment and was very consultative. I purchased two plots at White Sands and am very happy with the service I receive. Thanks.”
It doesn't make sense!
Finally another nugget from the website. “Green Planet Investment International Holdings PLC is the UK incorporated holding company for a multinational group with specific focus on, and core competence in, property related investment, development, feasibility and consultancy in both established and emerging markets worldwide. The group also diversifies into Financial Services, Web and Graphic design and the Real Estate Sector.”
This does not even make sense. If its core competence is in property-related investment, how can it then diversify into the real estate sector which is the same thing? And why would a firm proclaiming you could make a fortune from property in Brazil boast about “web and graphic design”?
But then the whole operation made no sense, except to the fast-talking, big-earning folk behind it.