Gang Conned Investors Out Of £10m

26 January 2011, 14:20 | Updated: 10 February 2011, 14:04

An international gang conned innocent investors out of £10m in a "ponzi'' fraud, it can be revealed today.

Victims paid thousands of pounds to gang members, wrongly believing they would receive a handsome profit for joining the scheme.

The six men, described by the police as ``sharks'', were involved in a ``premeditated deception'' that saw people lose their homes and life savings.

Details of the scam were made public after a judge lifted an order banning reporting of the case.

American businessman John Francis Napoli, 51, was due to be sentenced at Southwark Crown Court, London, today for his role in the fraud. Judge Anthony Pitts adjourned the hearing until February 17 as Napoli, of Sevenoaks, Kent, has expressed a desire to repay some of the victims' money and is awaiting a loan.

The ringleader of the gang was Vibhawa Fonseka, a Sri Lankan from a well-known family who targeted members of his own community.

Detective Chief Inspector Robin Cross of the Metropolitan Police said Fonseka had behaved in a ``despicable'' manner for abusing his position of trust.

``This scam has been devastating for victims,'' he said. ``Many have been reduced to near destitution, their homes have been lost and some will never be able to retire.

``Fonseka preyed on members of his own community while Napoli and the other men did everything in their power to hide their criminal activity.''

The victims were ``ordinary people with ordinary jobs'' who were caught up by the promises of a good financial return.

 DCI Cross said: ``People like these sharks are more than willing to assist you with losing your money.''

He urged others to be careful with their money and not be caught out by offers, such as ponzi or pyramid schemes, that appear to be too good to be true.

``This was a clear, premeditated deception of people who had invested an awful lot of money,'' he added.

The Met's fraud squad launched an investigation in 2005 after being contacted by distraught victims.

They discovered Fonseka had hired expensive cars to persuade potential investors of his wealth, telling them they could also live a life of luxury once their return was paid to them.

Police believe the gang made about £10m over a five-year period, duping about 100 victims into investing in the scam.

Napoli, convicted of unauthorised deposit taking, will be sentenced on February 17.

Fonseka, 41, of Spring Grove Crescent, Hounslow, Middlesex, is serving an eight-year sentence after being convicted of money laundering, 30 counts of deception and unauthorised deposit taking.

Former solicitor John James, 56, of Short Hill, Nottingham, was given a seven-year sentence. He was convicted of deception, money laundering and unauthorised deposit taking.

Mushtaq Ahmed, 56, an accountant from Shay Fold, Bradford, was given a £5,000 fine after pleading guilty to money laundering and unauthorised deposit taking, and was ordered to pay £5,000 costs.

The two final gang members, Samantha Koralage, 38, of Elvin Court, Kingsbury, London, and Upul Dezoysa, 60, of Long Lane, Ickenham, Middlesex, have pleaded guilty to unauthorised deposit taking and will be sentenced on February 28.