Truffle farm investment scam – could you bring a claim?
Unwitting victims of a major scam which tricked people into investing in non-existent truffle farms are being urged to take legal advice to assess their position and see what their options are.
Five connected companies have now been wound up by the High Court amid reports by the Insolvency Service that more than 100 investors have been cheated out of their savings, totalling close to £9 million and potentially rising.
Investors were initially contacted after filling in an online inquiry form.
Savers thought they were putting their money into oak and hazel tree saplings inoculated with truffle spores and planted in Spain and South Africa. They were told that the highly valuable truffles would then be harvested on a commercial scale and the profits returned to them.
But the Insolvency Service discovered that no cultivation or harvesting ever took place. What's more, investors paid between £750 and £995 per sapling when identical saplings were sold to the public by other companies at between £7.95 and £9.95.
What companies are involved?
The five connected companies wound up after the four day trial were:
- Westcountrytruffles Limited;
- Truffle Sales Limited;
- Viceroy Jones New Tech Limited;
- Viceroy Jones Overseas PCC Limited;
- Credit Free Limited.
Cheryl Lambert, the Insolvency Service's Chief Investigator, said: "The companies and those behind them have shown no remorse in their calculated plan to scam investors of their pension pots.
"Although the Insolvency Service investigation was hampered by a lack of cooperation, the investigation pieced together the numerous layers in which the scam was wrapped.
"We take the matter of unregulated pension liberation assessment schemes very seriously and will take action to stop any such schemes who have acted unscrupulously."
What exactly happened?
The High Court heard that Viceroy Jones New Tech used a network of unregulated financial advisory firms to target people who had access to their pension savings.
These advisors had close working relationships with George Frost, the common director of Viceroy Jones New Tech, Viceroy Jones Overseas PCC and Westcountrytruffles, who convinced people to transfer their savings into Small Self Administered Schemes run by Viceroy Jones New Tech and Viceroy Jones Overseas PCC in the Seychelles.
A total of £9 million of investments remain unexplained. Significant commissions were paid to the unregulated advisers, Truffle Sales, as well as George Frost and his brother, Brian, a former director of Westcountrytruffles.
The last company shut down by the courts, Credit Free Ltd, had not actively participated in the truffle scam but had received funds raised in the scheme and another scheme operated by George Frost and Viceroy Jones Ltd.
Using these funds, Credit Free Ltd paid more than £1.8 million over five years to George Frost and former director, Jeffrey Hawes.
Regulated financial advisors have a duty to consider where money will be invested when advising on the release of money held in a regulated pension.
We are looking into whether regulated financial advisers who facilitated the liberation of regulated pension funds can be held liable for the losses their clients subsequently sustained.
If you have been a victim of this scam, and regulated financial advisers helped you release money from a regulated UK investment or pension, we may be able to help you bring a claim.