Three convicted in £23m biofuel fraud, 33 representing Receiver & SFO

Three directors were convicted on Friday (5 December) as part of the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation into Sustainable Growth Group’s £23m fraud between April 2011 and February 2012.

Three men were today convicted as part of the Serious Fraud Office's investigation into Sustainable Growth Group ('SGG') including its subsidiary companies Sustainable AgroEnergy plc ('SAE') and Sustainable Wealth (UK) Investments Ltd ('SWI').

Gary Lloyd West, former Director and Chief Commercial Officer of SAE, James Brunel Whale, former Director, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of SGG and Stuart John Stone, Director of SJ Stone Ltd, a sales agent of unregulated pension and investment products, were convicted of conspiracy to commit fraud, conspiracy to furnish false information, fraudulent trading and Bribery Act 2010 offences at Southwark Crown Court. 

The SFO's criminal investigation focused on the selling and promotion of SAE investment products based on "green biofuel" Jatropha tree plantations in Cambodia. The green biofuel products were sold to UK investors who invested primarily via self-invested pension plans (SIPPs). These investors were deliberately misled into believing that SAE owned land in Cambodia; that the land was planted with Jatropha trees, and that there was an insurance policy in place to protect investors if the crops failed.

Commenting on the verdict, Director of the SFO, David Green CB QC said:

"These three individuals preyed on investors, many of whom were duped into investing life savings and pension funds. As a result, many lost life-changing amounts of money. This successful conclusion of the SFO's investigation clearly demonstrates the harm that this type of investment fraud has on victims and the SFO's ability and determination to bring criminals to justice."  

Mr West's and Mr Stone's charges and convictions under the Bribery Act 2010 are the first to be secured by the SFO since the act came into law in July 2011. The Act, which is not retrospective, applies to the whole of the UK and provides for wide extra-territorial jurisdiction to deal with bribery committed outside the UK.

All the convicted defendants will be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court on 8 December 2014, in court 5.  They have been remanded on conditional bail until that date.  The SFO will pursue confiscation orders against all three convicted defendants.

The SFO investigation uncovered serious accounting irregularities within SGG. In addition to false representations being made to investors Gary West and Stuart Stone conspired to produce false sales invoices of over £3m, allowing Stuart Stone a sales agent to obtain commission rates of 65% on investor's funds. These transactions were disguised using false e-mail addresses, Swiss bank accounts and overseas companies registered in the Seychelles and British Virgin Islands. Gary West received bribes for his role in the false invoices submitted by Stuart Stone.

The value of the alleged fraud was approximately £23m and the offences are said to have taken place between April 2011 and February 2012.

SAE had its offices at 23 Austin Friars, just off Old Broad Street, and then at 85 William Street, right in the centre of the city. 

Barry Stancombe acts for the Management Receiver/Liquidator Adrian Hyde and Kennedy Talbot represents the SFO in Confiscation & Restraint proceedings.