The Insolvency Service has shut down a web of construction and civil engineering companies with reported combined sales of over £50m and assets of £8.4m, which it said were run solely as instruments of fraud to obtain credit by filing false accounts and other false information
The 15 companies were ordered into liquidation on the grounds they were being used for the commission of fraud, after a winding up petition was brought by the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills.
In the High Court, Mr Registrar Briggs said the evidence showed ‘a deliberate attempt to hoodwink those who rely on documents filed at Companies House’ and ‘the information laid before Companies House here is clearly false and this shows a complete lack of commercial probity.’
The Court heard how some 15 readymade companies had been bought off the shelf from two company formation agents by a person calling himself Jonathan Hunting.
Although the companies were dormant and had never traded whilst under the control of the formation agents, when bought and activated by the new owner, fictitious directors were appointed and the dates of their appointments back-dated by several years to the date of incorporation of the relevant company in order to lend legitimacy to the false accounts filed by the new owner reporting significant assets and trading since incorporation by some of the companies.
The companies had no physical presence at their registered offices located in different parts of the country and ostensibly each was independently owned and operated.
Chris Mayhew, company investigations supervisor, said: ‘These supposedly unrelated companies had no legitimate purpose and existed solely to seek to obtain easily disposable goods on credit including expensive motor vehicles on lease finance with no intention of paying for them.
‘False accounts were filed by some of the companies to create the impression that they were substantial and credit worthy businesses and had been trading profitably for a number of years which the investigation found to be blatantly untrue.
‘Where no trading accounts had been filed the first step, backdating the date of the director’s appointment, had been taken to continue with the fraud.’
The companies concerned included Manchester-based Artists Avenue Agency Ltd, whose present sole recorded director is Jeremy Sloane (described as an engineering consultant). The company was inactive with dormant accounts filed by the formation agents until sold by them in December 2013 after which the company’s accounts filed by the new owner purported to show turnover since incorporation (albeit initially dormant) of £3,545,845 and total assets as at 31 December 2013 of £579,990.
Similarly, Britannia Bespoke Ltd in Leeds, with a sole director called Edward Fitzgerald (described as an engineer was inactive with dormant accounts filed by the formation agent until sold by them in December 2013 after which the company’s accounts filed by the new owner purported to show turnover since incorporation (albeit initially dormant) of £4,297,561 and total assets as at 31 December 2013 of £948,020.
The above two companies were purchased ‘off the shelf’ from the company formation agent by an individual called Jonathan Hunting (introduced by a Jude Baffoe) together with three other shelf companies that were similarly dormant and had never traded: Ecophy Ltd (subsequently dissolved owing at least £17,214); Juno Consultancy Overseas Ltd (ordered into liquidation owing some £211,763); and Cabalian Baldwin & Co Ltd (ordered into liquidation on the petition of Bafoe’s company claiming £99,405 for the supply of steel sections).
The reported combined turnover of these three companies was purportedly some £18.3m with total assets apparently of some £4.3m.
Hunting purchased three other companies from a different formation agent in April 2014: Peakshire Ltd, Colelane Ltd and Haleborough Ltd, each of which had previously been dormant but then claimed reported turnovers of between £5m and £6m and assets of around £1m.
In September 2014 Hunting purchased a further 10 shelf companies from the same agent which again were dormant at the time having never traded whilst awaiting purchase. For most of these companies, no accounts have been filed by the due date.
The petitions to wind up the 15 companies in the public interest were each presented in September 2015. The petition issued against Britannia Bespoke Ltd was supported by a steel supplier claiming £96,733 who also supported the petition issued against Leonworth Ltd, another company set up in the same way, claiming £81,144.