UK court bans directors of Australian, Lithuanian wheat scheme
Two directors who ran a wheat-based investment scam have been banned from acting as directors by the UK’s High Court, after failing to account for more than £500,000 ($621,465, €586, 572) of investors’ money.
Robert Ross White and Richard John Lyon Henstock have been disqualified for eight and nine years respectively, for their involvement in Agri Firma Capital, a company which offered investment opportunities in wheat-producing agricultural land in western Australia and Lithuania.
The scheme promised a 9% income on the Australian wheat farm and an 11-15% capital gain. In reality, the returns were “unachievable”, said the court, with around 65% of investor money used for marketing and other fees.
Agri Firma went into liquidation in July 2014 owing investors more than £500,000, much of which is untraceable as it was siphoned off into a network of offshore bank accounts.
A statement by the UK’s Insolvency Service said that Henstock deliberately mislead investors that farmland had been leased in Lithuania or purchased in Australia, despite evidence that no land was ever purchased or leased in either country.
“The company brochures made assurances of Agri Firma’s extensive farming experience and 16% returns received by customer in the previous quarter, when there is no evidence from available records that it ever purchased any land, upon which it could carry out farming,” it said.
Mark Bruce, chief investigator at the Insolvency Service, said: “In this case, the pooling of investors’ funds with that from other associated investment vehicles has prevented any ability to trace most of Agri Firma’s investment capital through various offshore accounts.
“Regarding Mr Henstock, even without records it has been possible to shed light on a number of claims made to investors and evidence that these were materially misleading.”
“Both registered directors have abrogated their duties, facilitating the scam which this investment became. These disqualifications should give a clear message regarding such behaviour,” he added.
No record keeping
White was also found guilty of failing to keep, preserve, or deliver Agri Firma’s accounts, preventing the court from identifying all the company’s assets and tracing where the money went.
For example, a loan of A$94,318 was made from Agri Firma to an offshore company on 15 July 2013.
Without any company records, it is not possible to test whether the loan was ever repaid, said the High Court.
The order follows a previous decision to ban Richard Henstock from being a director for nine years from July 2016.