SFO shuts down £17m solar panel investment scam

Six men have been found guilty of running a £17m fraudulent scheme to install solar panels which defrauded 1,500 victims including elderly, retired and vulnerable people, following a four-year investigation spearheaded by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO)

At Liverpool Crown Court David Diaz, Ludovic Black, Stephen Wilson, Robert Ross, Niall Hastie and Kenneth Reid were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud by false representation and will be sentenced on 1 October. Gary McVey was acquitted.

The court heard that over more than two years, the brothers David Diaz and Ludovic Black and their accomplices devised a scam to sell and install solar energy panels which would enable their customers to meet their power needs and generate extra income in addition via the government’s feed-in tariff (FIT) scheme.

This involved a company called Solar Energy Savings, amongst other entities, which also claimed to have a relationship with insurers called Capital Suisse and Capital Helvetica and to be investing money in order to provide guarantees for the solar panel investments.

However, the SFO investigation, which also involved Police Scotland, Greater Manchester Police, the Trading Standards Agency, the Insolvency Service and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, found that in reality the men had manipulated their victims by using deceitful sales techniques, outright lies, and false guarantees of reimbursement to misrepresent the offer and maximise their sales.

Their salespeople used tactics such as describing the offer as a limited promotion, using companies they had created to appear reputable, and indicating that the customer was in an ‘optimum’ position to adopt solar power, no matter what the reality.

The key offer to encourage the victims to spend significant sums – and in some cases all of their savings – on the installation was the additional cashback scheme which falsely guaranteed that the victims’ costs would be separately and safely invested, insured, and returned to them in full in a number of years, risk-free.

In reality these were blatant lies – no such guarantee existed and no money was ever invested as claimed, leaving the victims out of pocket for between £10,000 and £20,000, causing particular financial and emotional hardship for the large proportion who were elderly or on fixed incomes, the SFO said.

Instead of reinvesting the funds as promised, the money was transferred between Solar Energy Savings and other companies to misdirect law enforcement, prolong the scam and aggressively pursue more fraudulent sales through apparently separate entities.

However, these companies shared controlling minds and offered nearly identical policies to return the purchase fee in full – in some cases this was so crudely done it involved manually crossing out company names on certificates.

The defendants’ bank accounts also showed that they had paid themselves £1.9m from the companies and were enjoying extravagant lifestyles including driving Lamborghini and Porsche sports cars, paying for expensive cosmetic surgery and taking private jet flights to Switzerland and Italy.

Lisa Osofsky, director of the SFO said: ‘These men built predatory schemes to steal thousands from the hard-earned savings of vulnerable people while pretending to offer them a chance to improve their own financial security.'

Report by Pat Sweet

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