An international gang of fraudsters made £10million from targeting a series of victims, it can be revealed today. The six men were convicted of deception and money laundering offences at earlier hearings for their involvement in a ‘Ponzi’ fraud which affected a number of different communities across London, but specifically targeted members of the Sri Lankan community.
The court heard how the Metropolitan Police Service Fraud Squad launched an investigation back in 2005 after they received reports from victims who had been duped out of huge sums of money, often their life savings.
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The ringleader of the International fraud was Vibhawa Fonseka, who used his family name – which was highly reputable among the Sri Lankan community – to convince people to put money into investments that he promised would make a huge profit. He would then provide documents and contracts to back up the investments and would even pay some interest to the investors to prolong the fraud, attract other investors and squeeze even more money out of his victims over a long period of time.
The money he made was used to fund a luxurious lifestyle – he owned a £1.6 million mansion, designer clothes and jewellery and travelled extensively. He used flash hire cars to give the impression to his investors that their money was safe and that he was doing well – this charade convinced his investors that they too would be able to live this kind of lifestyle once their return was paid to them.
Three others – John Francis Napoli, John Abraham James and Mushtaq Ahmed – were responsible for creating a network of bank accounts in which to launder the proceeds of their crimes – a lot of the funds were laundered abroad. Police believe that they made about £10million over a period of five years and duped about 100 victims into handing over their hard-earned cash.
The remaining two men – Samantha Koralage, aged 38 of Elvin Court, Kingsbury, London and Upul Dezoysa, aged 60, of Long Lane, Ickenham, Middlesex – pleaded guilty to unauthorised deposit taking on 28 September 2010. They are due to be sentenced on Friday 28 February.
Detective Chief Inspector Robin Cross, head of the MPS Fraud Squad, said: “This scam has been devastating for victims. Many have been reduced to near destitution, their homes have been lost and some will never be able to retire. Fonseka preyed on members of his own community while Napoli and the other men did everything in their power to hide their criminal activity.
“I urge anyone thinking of investing in schemes such as these, or anything else similar, to do their research. Never give money to someone you don’t know, even if you have heard they are honest and reputable members of the community. You should be wary of anyone asking you to hand over your personal savings. Check with the FSA to see if the person or company you are dealing with is properly regulated and registered.”
One victim, who was introduced to Fonseka through a mutual friend, explains how he was defrauded of over £200,000:
“He was a charming, charismatic man who had a very softly spoken voice. He was the sort of person who dressed very well in Armani suits and was extremely articulate. He portrayed himself as a very good and honourable man claiming that my money would go into the most legitimate investments which he had carried out due diligence checks on himself. He even made me believe that a number of celebrities had also invested with him – he showed me some documents with famous footballers’ signatures on, which made me trust that he was genuine.
“I chose to see him socially also as he was very personable and friendly, contacting me regularly during the period when he was persuading me to invest. I even sought his advice on many of my other financial affairs. Once I had handed over my life savings, however, things began to change.
“The first few interest payments came through on time but when payments began to come late or were not of the sums promised to me, I began to worry that all was not as it seemed; where he had been so easily contactable before, it was now extremely difficult to get hold of him.
“Eventually I came to realize that I had been scammed and that this man was living his flash lifestyle using the money that was meant for my daughters’ educations and our own retirement. The loss of this money is devastating and our lives will not be the same again.
“I am angry that I was taken advantage of by such a manipulative man and I’m sure I speak for all those victims in my position when I say that Fonseka and the others involved are where they belong, behind bars.”
Details of defendants:
[A] John Francis Napoli, 51 (20.03.59) an American businessman of Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Kent was found guilty of unauthorised deposit taking at Southwark Crown Court. He will be sentenced on the 17 February.
[B] Vibhawa Fonseka, 41 (24.03.69) of Spring Grove Crescent, Hounslow ,Middlesex was found guilty of Money Laundering, 30 counts of deception and unauthorised deposit taking at Southwark Crown Court on the 12 April 2010. He was sentenced to eight years in prison on 2 July 2010.
[C] John Branham James, 56 (28.09.54) a former solicitor of Short Hill, Nottingham was found guilty of deception, Money Laundering and unauthorised deposit taking at Southwark Crown Court on the 12 April 2010. He was sentenced to seven years in prison on the 2 July 2010.
[D] Mushtaq Ahmed, 56 (29.12.54) an accountant of Shay Fold, Bradford pleaded guilty to money laundering and unauthorised deposit taking at Southwark Crown Court on the 12 April 2010. He was fined £5,000 – with additional costs of £5,000 to be paid on the 2 July 2010.
[E] Samantha Koralage, 38 (28.09.72) of Elvin Court, Kingsbury, London pleaded guilty to unauthorized deposit taking on the 28 September 2010. He will be sentenced on 28 February.
[F] Upul Dezoysa, 60 (11.02.50) of Long Lane, Ickenham, Middlesex pleaded guilty to unauthorised deposit taking on the 28 September 2010. He will be sentenced on 28 February.
A financial investigation is under way in an attempt to recoup assets owned by those convicted.