Two men and a woman were sentenced today to prison terms of up to nine years for their roles in an investment fraud conducted against expatriates in Majorca. Around £10 million was entrusted for claimed high return growth on the US stock market but none of it was invested. Instead much of it paid for the fraudsters' lavish spending. Confiscation/compensation proceedings are to follow.
- Nine years' imprisonment for John Hirst, 61, of West Yorkshire.
- Six and a half years' for Richard Pollet, 70, of Dorset.
- Two and a half years' for Linda Hirst, 64, of Surrey.
Gilher Inc, registered in the Seychelles, and with its bank accounts in Cyprus, was a company set up by John Hirst. It was supposedly an investment business but its purpose from the start was to defraud investors. These were mostly from the British expatriate community in Majorca but residents in the UK were also drawn into the scam. The fraud relied very much on introductions where members of the same club, family or circle of friends were brought into contact with Gilher Inc and exposed to its promotional hype. The crimes prosecuted occurred between 2001 and 2009.
John Hirst was previously an insurance and pensions advisor working in the UK. He and Linda Hirst (then Linda Waite) moved to Majorca in the early 2000s where they rented a flat and he worked as a labourer. They had been unsuccessful with some earlier business enterprises they started in the UK and had accumulated debts of around £100,000. Richard Pollett was working in Majorca as a chartered accountant and financial consultant. He and John Hirst became acquainted there which resulted in the creation of Gilher Inc., designed to be an investment fraud from the start.
Richard Pollet was projected as the finance professional, a reassurance. He helped to make the introductions and recommendations. John Hirst played the role of someone successful with investments, an example of how his scheme could reap good returns. Linda Hirst was complicit through money laundering.
False promises made to investors included that Gilher Inc would invest their money in stocks on the New York exchange Dow Jones Index which would produce a return of 20% to 35% per annum. Unrealistic assurances were given that the investments were low risk, secure and that the investment capital could be returned within 14 days of asking. Some so-called profits were paid out to some investors to suggest successful trading but gradually desperate to keep the cash flow momentum to make those payments and to finance the plundering, guaranteed returns of 40% were being promised to attract more investors. Around half of the invested funds were never returned.
There were examples of investors borrowing against inheritances, or using their life savings such was the appeal of the scheme so cynically being promoted by Hirst and Pollett. . Money handed over to the Gilher operation for investment went on property, travel and lifestyle spending by the fraudsters.
Investigation and proceedings summary
The investigation commenced in November 2009 following a complaint by an investor. Working with the SFO on the investigation were the police forces of West Yorkshire and of Surrey. The defendants were charged on various dates during March to July 2011. Pollet was extradited from Spain to be charged.
John Hirst had pleaded guilty ahead of trial which opened at Bradford Crown Court on 18 June 2012 with HHJ Jonathan Durham-Hall presiding. The case against the other four defendants was presented to the jury who, after a seven-week trial, retired on 7 August to consider their verdicts. By 13 August Pollet and Linda Hirst were convicted of their roles. Two other defendants were acquitted.
Confiscation and compensation proceedings are to follow.
Notes for editors
1. The charges:
a) John Neil Hirst, (D.O.B 11.03.51) of West Yorkshire, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud and two counts of money laundering, contrary to s327(1) and s328(1) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
b) Richard John Pollet (D.O.B 05.02.42) of Majorca and Poole, was found guilty of conspiracy to defraud.
c) Linda Christine Hirst (D.O.B 24.10.49) of Surrey, was found guilty of three counts of money laundering, contrary to s327(1) and s329(1) of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. She was also found guilty of one count of evading a liability by deception contrary to s2(1)(a) of the Theft Act 1978
d) Two other defendants (Daniel Hirst and Zoe Waite) were acquitted of charges of money laundering (Proceeds of Crime Act 2002).
2. John Hirst's background includes serving a prison term in the early '90s for an investment fraud with similar characteristics to the Gilher operation. The target victims in that case were Yorkshire miners with redundancy payments.
3. The Serious Fraud Office is a government department responsible for investigating and prosecuting serious and complex fraud. The SFO is headed by the Director (David Green CB QC) who exercises powers under the superintendence of the Attorney General. These powers are derived from the Criminal Justice Act (1987).
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