Julia Irvine 9 Jul 2019 01:19pm

Former GFI director charged with conspiracy to defraud

Founder and former director of Global Forestry Investments, Andrew Skeene, has been charged with conspiracy to defraud, forgery, and misconduct in the course of winding up, following his arrest at Heathrow Airport 11 days ago

The charges relate to the Serious Fraud Office’s (SFO’s) ongoing criminal investigation into the allegedly fraudulent scheme through which small investors – including many pensioners – were persuaded to invest in “ethical” tree plantations in the Brazilian rainforest.

Skeene and his business partner Omari Bowers set Global Forestry Investments up in 2010 with offices in London, Brazil and Dubai.

They claimed that investors could expect returns of 10%-20% a year from growing teak in the Amazon jungle in Belem, Brazil, and offered plots of land there for £5,000 apiece. Estimates put the amount of investment the scheme attracted at around £20m.

Payments to investors dried up rapidly and in March 2013, the scheme was wound up in the High Court. Bowers and Skeene later blamed their inability to pay on an unusually long rainy season in Brazil and a change in Brazilian banking regulation.

In a statement today, the SFO revealed that Skeene had now been charged with three offences of conspiracy to defraud contrary to common law, four offences of forgery, one offence of misconduct in the course of winding up contrary to s208(1)(d) of the Insolvency Act 1986, and one offence of making a false statement not under oath contrary to s5(c) of the Perjury Act 1911.