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City directors sentenced to 28 years in total for £23m green biofuel fraud

8 December, 2014 | News Releases

Three men were sentenced today at Southwark Crown Court as a result of the Serious Fraud Office’s investigation and prosecution of Sustainable Growth Group (‘SGG’) including its subsidiary companies Sustainable AgroEnergy plc (‘SAE’) and Sustainable Wealth (UK) Investments Ltd (‘SWI’).

All three were convicted on Friday following a prosecution which focused on the selling and promotion of SAE investment products based on “green biofuel” Jatropha tree plantations in Cambodia. The green biofuel products were sold to UK investors who invested primarily via self-invested pension plans (SIPPs). These investors were deliberately misled into believing that SAE owned land in Cambodia; that the land was planted with Jatropha trees, and that there was an insurance policy in place to protect investors if the crops failed.

Sentences handed down:

  • Gary Lloyd West, of Hertfordshire, former Director and Chief Commercial Officer of SAE was sentenced to a total of 13 years’ imprisonment.
  • James Brunel Whale, of Sussex, former Director, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of SGG was sentenced to a total of 9 years’ imprisonment
  • Stuart John Stone, of Shropshire, Director of SJ Stone Ltd, a sales agent of unregulated pension and investment products was sentenced to a total of 6 years’ imprisonment.

Both Mr West and Mr Whale were disqualified from being a director for 15 years whilst Mr Stone was disqualified for 10 years.

When handing down sentence HHJ Beddoe described the fraud as a “thickening quagmire of dishonesty… there were more than 250 victims of relatively modest means some of whom had lost all of their life savings and their homes.” The judge added that the bribery was an aggravating feature.

Joint Head of Fraud Jane de Lozey commented:

“This the first of a number of SFO cases to come to trial involving the mis-selling of investment products connected with self-invested pension plans (SIPPs) in which savers on modest incomes have tried to invest for their retirement only to find themselves the victims of fraud. Pension scams can be difficult to detect even for experienced investors. The SFO is working closely with partner agencies across law enforcement to tackle this type of serious economic crime.”

Legal proceedings to establish compensation and confiscation orders against the three defendants have commenced.

Notes for editors:

1. The jury reached their guilty verdicts on Friday, 5 December. Details of the press release issued at verdict is available here.

2. Gary West’s sentence:

Count 1 – 9 years

Count 2 – 9 years concurrent

Count 3 – 4 years consecutive

Count 5 – 4 years concurrent

Count 7 – 4 years concurrent

James Whale:

Count 1 – 9 years

Count 2 – 9 years concurrent

Stuart Stone sentence:

Count 3 – 6 years

Count 4 – 6 years concurrent

Count 6 – 6 years concurrent

3. The three men were charged on 14 August 2013 and attended their first court appearance at Westminster Magistrates’ Court on 23 September 2013. Details of the charge press release issued 14 August 2013 is available here.

4. The bribery charges against West, Stone and Wong are the first to be brought by the SFO under the Bribery Act 2010

5. The period during which the offences occurred is between 1 April 2011 and 24 February 2012.

6. The SFO is a partner in a multi-agency campaign named Project Bloom to raise awareness of pension scams, details of which are available here. Other partners include the Department of Work and Pension, The Pensions Regulator, The Pensions Advisory Service, Money Advice Service, Financial Conduct Authority, HM Revenue & Customs, Action Fraud, National Crime Agency and the City of London Police.

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