Insolvency Services News
A Southampton-based company that misled customers to invest in fine wines has been wound up in the High Court.
Intercontinental Wines Limited was wound up in the public interest at the High Court on 23 November 2018, with the Official Receiver appointed as liquidator. The company?s sole appointed director since incorporation in 2011 has been David Angel.
The court heard that the company claimed to be a wine broker and used high-pressure cold calling to target members of the public.
Representatives would emphasise that investments in wine were secure and resulted in profitable returns. Customers were also told that the cases of fine wine would be stored in bonded warehouses under personal accounts.
However, customers began to complain about various matters, including a complete failure by the company to respond to queries, such as information about the safe holding of wines supposedly purchased on their behalf.
Complaints were made to the Insolvency Service, with the following investigation discovering that Intercontinental Wines only made purchases for a small percentage of paid customers on an apparently ad hoc basis and not according to its contractual requirements to do so on behalf of each customer.
And only around 10% of customers had cases of fine wine stored in bonded warehouses under personal accounts.
Further enquiries found that Intercontinental Wines? bank records and financial statements showed wine purchased by the company was only worth a fraction of their sales by value.
In a two-year period between March 2015 and February 2017 the company made sales of over ?460,000, while purchasing just only ?100,000 worth of stock. This meant that without knowing it, customers would need the value of the wine to increase by more than 400% to at least break-even.
The company failed to provide records of customers? purchases and it was only later when investigators obtained the banking records, were they able to evidence that only a small proportion of sales proceeds were used to purchase wine. Instead, the company?s bank accounts were used for personal expenditure.
And the company vacated its joint trading and registered premises in Southampton in March 2018 but failed to disclose this to customers or to the Registrar of Companies.
Irshard Mohammed, Senior Investigator & Case Manager at the Insolvency Service, said:
Intercontinental Wines enticed customers with the promise of attractive returns from building a portfolio of fine wines, entrusting the company to make purchases and store wines at bonded warehouses on their behalf. However, the company blatantly failed to do so in the vast majority of sales made and instead took customers? funds on face value, frittering it away on unexplained or personal expenditure.
These winding-up proceedings show that we will take firm action against companies that operate in such an unscrupulous way.
A specialist horse researcher has been jailed for 4-and-a-half years after she defrauded a series of organisations to clear her debts.
Dr Maria Magdalena Leitner, 56 of Bollington, Cheshire, was sentenced at Chester Crown Court on 28 November 2018 after she was convicted of three counts of fraud, as well as one count each for obtaining credit whilst bankrupt, failing to deliver assets to the Official Receiver and acting as a director whilst bankrupt.
The court heard that in 2005, Dr Leitner set up Equine Research & Information Centre Limited (ERIC) a specialist horse research company.
In 2010, Dr Leitner wanted to buy specialist camera equipment and under the guise of ERIC applied for funds through a leasing company so that she could buy the cameras from a company based in the United States, worth around $250,000.
But Dr Leitner dishonestly secured ?297,000 ? more than the equipment was worth ? as she told the leasing company she was buying the camera equipment not from the firm in the United States but from another company that she had falsely set-up. Dr Leitner did this to make the leasing company believe that this was a valid transaction for the larger amount.
And once she received the funds, instead of paying the full amount due to the camera supplier, Dr Leitner used the money to clear some of her debts, including mortgage payments.
Dr Leitner did pay back more than ?128,000 to the leasing company but when she stopped making payments, the leasing company applied to have her made bankrupt in 2012.
The camera supplier still had not released the equipment from storage in the UK as it had not received full payment. However, despite being restricted from borrowing money as a bankrupt, Dr Leitner illegally came to a credit agreement with the camera supplier so they could deliver the specialist cameras.
Dr Leitner then failed to pay back the full loan to the leasing company and following their petition to wind up ERIC, the research company was closed down in July 2012.
The Insolvency Service was brought in to carry out investigations and throughout the enquiries, Dr Leitner was uncooperative.
For example, when it came to recovering the specialist camera equipment, she handed over a small number of the cameras to the Official Receiver, while claiming that the rest had gone missing. But behind the scenes, Dr Leitner had kept back the majority of the cameras and software for her own purposes.
The Insolvency Service also discovered that Dr Leitner submitted ?43,412 worth of false VAT returns, while laundering the proceeds of one of these through an offshore account in Mauritius.
At sentence, HHJ Everitt said that Maria Leitner ?set up a web of deceit? and ?there was sophistication and a lot of planning ? over a sustained period of time?
Arwel Jones, Director of Legal Services for the Insolvency Service, said:
Dr Leitner may well have genuinely wanted to buy the camera equipment but this was unfortunately the start of her downfall. She told a series of lies to secure funds and once she received the money, Dr Leitner used it to pay off her debts. From there on in she continued to defraud various organisations and even when it got to the point of our investigations, Dr Leitner continued to act deceitfully and dishonestly.
Four-and-a-half years is a significant sentence and we hope this sends a strong message that we will robustly investigate and bring criminal prosecutions if appropriate where people carry out fraudulent activities.
She had been previously disqualified as a director for 11 years by Macclesfield County Court in 2014 in connection with ERIC.
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Two marketing bosses disqualified for total of 12 years after causing their company to pay more than ?830,000 to businesses they had connections with.
With offices in London and Sheffield, White Space Communications Ltd was incorporated in September 2000, providing web design and marketing services.
Jeffrey Alexander Roberts (65) and Anthony John Samuel Barry (56) were both appointed directors of the agency in 2013.
Two years after their appointment, however, the company went into administration in April 2015 and just under a year later, entered into liquidation in January 2016 owing at least ?364,000 to creditors.
This triggered an investigation into the company?s affairs by the Insolvency Service and investigators found that from May 2014, the two directors caused or allowed White Space to make ?831,000 worth of payments or loans to companies they had connections with.
The directors failed to provide any explanation or valid commercial reason to investigators for the loans and the monies paid were unrecoverable, which meant creditors who were owed money in the liquidation lost out.
Jeffrey Roberts and Anthony Barry have now given disqualification undertakings to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy having accepted they breached their fiduciary duties.
The bans prevent them from becoming directly or indirectly involved in the promotion, formation or management of a company for six years. Jeffrey?s disqualification was made effective from 6 November 2018, while Anthony Barry?s ban came into affect on 19 November 2018.
Martin Gitner, Deputy Head, Insolvent Investigations, part of the Insolvency Service said:
The Insolvency Service will not hesitate to investigate and seek to disqualify directors who have caused a company to loan or pay monies to connected parties rather than to the benefit of either the company or its creditors.
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