A former associate of the suspected fraudster Renwick Haddow has been warned to expect a jail term for illegally shifting funds earmarked for investors who lost millions in scams.
Robert McKendrick was ordered to pay more than £14m by a British court last year for his role in projects including an African farming scam after a flashy promotional campaign that duped more than 2,500 investors.
A key player in the operation was Mr Haddow, a British businessman with a long history of eye-catching but ultimately failed projects that has seen him accused of ripping off thousands of people worldwide and pursued through the courts by investors.
Mr Haddow was arrested in Morocco in 2017 and extradited to the United States where he is set to go on trial accused of defrauding investors out of more than $36 million in Bitcoin and hot-desking office scams. More than 100 investors in those projects were from the UAE.
The two men were among 16 people and companies ordered to pay back nearly £17 million last year after an investigation by British financial investigators into a farming project in Sierra Leone and carbon credit investments in the African nation, Brazil and Australia.
The schemes were unlawfully promoted to the public by “false, misleading and deceptive statements,” a court ruled.
Investors had been promised that money invested in the rice farming operation would treble but they ended up paying for more land that the project actually owned.
Company director Mr McKendrick, 59, is accused of breaching a series money freezing orders dating back to 2013 that were intended to stop him from disposing of assets up to the value of £16.5m, including a portfolio of 40 properties, according to court documents.
Financial investigators are seeking to have Mr McKendrick, who set up the rice farm project in 2009, sent to prison after it emerged he transferred tens of thousands of pounds to his wife in breach of the orders.
Mr McKendrick, who declared himself bankrupt after losing an appeal against the £14m penalty last year, gave no information about where the money could now be found or what it was spent on, according to the body that regulates the sector, the Financial Conduct Authority.
Mr Justice Marcus Smith told Mr McKendrick at a hearing at London’s High Court on Thursday that it was “almost inevitable” that he would be jailed for five counts of breaching the money freezing orders.
“One doesn’t know how much money was diverted,” the judge said. “Where even one pound is diverted from where it should have gone, that is depriving investors of that pound.”
The UK’s Financial Conduct Authority, which first brought the case in 2013, is trying to claw back money for investors but said that previous experience suggested that investors would only get a fraction of their money back.
Mr McKendrick has apologised for the breaches. His lawyer, Adam Tear, said the bid to have him jailed “has the feeling of a last dig” following six years of investigations that resulted in his bankruptcy. The case was adjourned until March.