Abacus Advisory, one of whose clients was Scottish investor Craig Jamieson, ran a website giving the impression of a substantial company with global departments and a head office in the heart of London. It was illustrated by a smiling girl in a busy call centre.
The real business had no office in London and was based in the Marshall Islands. The UK-registered company called Abacus Advisory had one director, Philip Clarke, who set the company up in September 2012 and applied for it to be struck off in March 2014.
As The Herald reported in March, Mr Clarke handled carbon credit investments for which Mr Jamieson had been persuaded to part with £20,000 in three tranches in early 2013, after the company which sold them, Eco Business Management, and its salesman, a "David White", disappeared. Mr Jamieson does not know how to sell the credits, which are held by an unregulated broker and which he has discovered were hugely overpriced.
Several southern-based investors who dealt with Abacus Advisory have since come forward including one Donald Smith who parted with more than £100,000 for diamonds. Mr Smith said: "My diamonds do exist. They are in Geneva in a stored place at the airport. But how I will now sell them I don't know. I have asked advice about the diamonds from someone that sells gems and he said they are way overpriced. The address of Abacus on their website and letters was merely a postal address ... I went there to find them and the receptionist said they don't actually have a suite but that is just a reference on their computer for communication."
Investors have in recent months mounted an internet campaign and alerted Action Fraud to the company's dealings, but have been told the only body with power is the Insolvency Service in relation to the disqualification of directors.
Mr Smith dealt first with "David Jones" then with "Philip Hughes", who he says "may have been the same person as Philip Clarke". He says: "Philip [Hughes/Clarke] said he had already negotiated the selling price for the diamonds with a buyer and altogether the profit would be over £40,000. They were not sold, and I subsequently discovered that Abacus had applied to strike out. I didn't hear from him again as the number was cut off, the website closed and the email address closed."
Mr Jamieson says: "Enforcement agencies are aware of the extent of carbon credit fraud, conservatively estimated to be worth £24 million. But of the numerous companies known to be involved, only a handful have met with any consequences. "
He adds: "A year after first notifying Action Fraud, and then sending an email of complaint ... this will not now be looked at in a criminal context but handled by the Insolvency Service."
Pareet Shah, administrator to Abacus Advisory at insolvency practitioners Bhardwaj in Middlesex, told The Herald: "Once we were appointed, everything came out of the woodwork. We have to look into the company's accounts and records, once we've done that we will submit our report to the Insolvency Service. It is up to them to take a view on director disqualification."
He added: "We have asked the director why the company was misleading investors into thinking it was a UK company but he has not responded."
He added: "Investors like Mr Jamieson and others knew the risk factor, it was on the disclaimer page of the website which showed they were not regulated by the FCA, they have covered their back. Both sides were at fault and we are trying to investigate what has happened."
Mr Clarke, in an email last month to the administrators, claimed he had "never worked for Eco Business Management or acted as an agent or affiliate in any way" and that Clarke was "the 27th most common surname in the UK" so it was not him. He admitted to having "limited dealings with Mr Jamieson", adding that the investor had "quite simply bought investment products that do exist through a perfectly legal route and, now that the market has moved against him, is screaming fraud". The purchase contracts had included risk warnings, he added.
Mr Jamieson commented: "I have the emails sent by David White from Eco Business Management saying that Philip Clarke will now be dealing with me as he will be away. I also have my email asking for David White to forward Philip Clarke email address details, which he did not do. Philip Clarke always made the point of contacting me by phone."
Mr Clarke did not respond to an email from The Herald.