Dave Ames, the fugitive entrepreneur and investor in the Buccament Hotel project, has been jailed in the UK for 12 years following his conviction on fraud charges two months ago.
Ames, the man behind a £226 million fraud affecting thousands of British victims was jailed last week at Southwark Crown Court following an investigation by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).
Ames was convicted on August 3, 2022 of two counts of fraud by abuse of position.
The 70-year-old Ames, who skipped St Vincent and the Grenadines after failing to turn up to court on fraud charges, was found to have fraudulently abused his position as Chairman of the Harlequin business, exposing over 8,000 investors to huge losses between 2010 and 2015. His conviction on August 3, was the fourth successful prosecution of an individual by the SFO since May this year, a press release from the SFO states.
Victims parted with pensions and life savings, believing that their money would be invested in holiday properties in St Vincent and the Grenadines, St Lucia, Barbados and other Caribbean nations. In reality, the scheme had no external funding and never delivered what was promised. Almost no properties were ever constructed and 99 percent of those who invested made no return.
Ames sold to a large number of people with Self-Invested Personal Pensions (“SIPPs”) before regulations were tightened in 2012, many of them elderly with little investing experience. The SFO presented the court with victim statements, detailing the personal impact suffered by these investors.
Countless investors were forced to delay their retirement, having lost their pensions and life savings. Many victims continue to struggle with financial hardship, some having re-mortgaged their homes and continuing to repay outstanding debts.
The court heard how this led to breakdowns in some investors’ relationships, rifts within families and various health conditions suspected to have been induced by stress, anxiety and depression.
The SFO advocated that a lengthy prison sentence be given to Ames. Not only did Ames cause financial and long-term harm to thousands of victims, but his offending was aggravated by a failure to respond to at least eight warnings about the Harlequin businesses from business associates, financial professionals and authorities.
Ames was also found to have wrongly attempted to place the blame on his associates and lied to investors on numerous occasions.
SFO investigators uncovered that Ames had enriched his family by £6.2 million through the Harlequin Group. He and his family took frequent holidays to exotic destinations, travelled in business class and stayed in expensive hotels. Ames even employed a personal chauffeur.
Delivering the sentence, HH Judge Hehir said, “You were clearly far more interested in pocketing investors’ money than in ensuring those investors were getting what they were paying for”.
He said, “You were a slick and plausible salesman and thoroughly dishonest with it… You are a menace to anybody unfortunate enough to do business with you”.
He went on to praise a “thorough and diligent investigation” by the SFO.
Ames was led from the dock and remanded in custody.
Director, Serious Fraud Office, Lisa Osofsky said: “Those who are trusted with investors’ money have a fundamental duty to safeguard the interests of those investors”.
Ames, the founder of Harlequin Hotels and Resorts, parent company of Buccament Bay Resorts Ltd, was wanted by the police in St Vincent and the Grenadines after he failed to show up in court on three occasions to answer tax evasion and theft charges.
He was charged with theft under the Criminal Code, tax evasion pursuant to Section 81 of the Value Added Tax (VAT) Act, and failure to pay the Comptroller of Inland Revenue pursuant to Section 134 of the Income Tax Act amounts in excess of almost EC$7 million.
When he skipped the country in June, 2016, Ames was also owing several private clients and staff at the resort which was later declared bankrupt.
The British investor was suspected of having left the mainland by boat. Then prosecutor, Karim Nelson had told SEARCHLIGHT that is was unlikely Ames had left the island through one of the airports as the Immigration Department had no record of him doing so.
The police had issued a bench warrant for Ames’ arrest after he failed to show up at the Kingstown Magistrates Court to answer the eight charges against him.
In addition to the 12 year prison sentence imposed by the Southwark Crown Court, Ames was also disqualified as a company director for 15 years.
The Serious Fraud Office says it fights complex financial crime to deliver justice and protect the UK’s reputation as a safe place to do business.
It is bringing seven cases to trial this financial year, prosecuting 21 individuals in relation to economic crime worth over £600 million.
In information to investors, the SFO news release said that anyone who paid money to Harlequin during the period January 1, 2010 to June,11 2015, are considered a victim of the Harlequin investment scheme. “You do not need to register with us as we are already in possession of Harlequin’s list of investors. Any confiscation/compensation sought will automatically consider you,” it said.