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7 December 2012, 06:00
Two men, including one from Hertfordshire, have become the first in Britain to be jailed for a land banking fraud.
Omar Eshpari, 33, and Stefan Mitchell, 42, masterminded a £3 million deception, conning the elderly and vulnerable into buying plots of land that were either worthless or massively over-priced.
A string of fraudulent companies were set up and sold land bought cheaply across England or plots they did not even own with the locations marketed as being in a prime position for development and set to increase quickly in value.
In reality, investors were putting their money into plots located on farmland, in the Green Belt, within an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty or on the sides of hills, with no chance of gaining planning permission let alone building houses.
Some received small returns while others lost everything, with the duo funnelling off the funds into a network of bank accounts.
Over a two-year period, more than 300 victims fell foul of the gang, with one elderly man who was suffering from terminal cancer losing almost £300,000 and a retired woman being conned out of £373,000.
Mitchell, from St Albans, and Eshpari, from Enfield, used virtual offices with London addresses and professionally-produced brochures and websites to legitimise their operation.
Cold-calling and high-pressure sale tactics were put into play to target and then bully people into buying into their scheme.
By late 2009, more and more investors were becoming concerned about the lack of returns from Pemberton International, Eldon International, Willow International, Allied Investment and Abacus Investment, and were increasingly asking for their money back.
Eshpari and Mitchell were jailed for seven and six years respectively at London's Isleworth Crown Court.