One of Britain's richest conned out of £12m

Scales of justiceDavid Ebener/DPA/Press Association Images

Two con men have been found guilty of preying on the charitable instincts of one of Britain's richest men, in order to steal £12 million of his money.

So how did they do it, and how can you stay safe from this sort of scheme?

The scam

George Katcharian, 60, and Cemal Esmene, 56, were convicted at Norwich Crown Court yesterday. It emerged that they were part of a gang that swindled 60-year-old philanthropist, Graham Dacre, out of £12 million of his £70 million fortune.

Dacre is listed as Britain's 793rd richest man on the Sunday Times Rich List. He made much of his fortune in car dealerships, and is well-known for his deep religious convictions. The men preyed on this in order to steal millions from him. They told him he could make money from a trading platform - which would enable him to plough more money into his many and various philanthropic endeavours.

The case

The money was taken in May 2008. The pair kept stringing Dacre along until December 2008, at which point he reported them to Norfolk Police. The case took four years to come to court, and four weeks to hear the evidence. Acting Detective Inspector Rob Foreman, head of Norfolk Police's Economic Crime Unit, said: "This is a successful conclusion to what has been a very complex and protracted investigation."

The pair blamed an associate Ian Yorkshire, 62, who had already been convicted of laundering the proceeds of the crime. However, Katcharian was convicted of conspiring to defraud Dacre - and also of conspiring to defraud a German church of £8 million. Esme was also convicted of conspiring to defraud, and of laundering the cash. Already in May, Alan Hunt, 65, of Poole, Dorset, and Arthur Ford-Batey, 62, of Carlisle, Cumbria, were convicted of conspiracy to defraud Dacre and jailed for a total of 23 years.

Foreman said: "The offenders targeted individuals and organisations that believed in ethical investment. They falsely persuaded them that a portion of their profits from the investments would benefit humanitarian projects aimed at helping some of the poorest and most disadvantaged people around the world. In reality the money funded the lifestyles of the offenders."

Protect yourself

So how can you keep yourself safe from this sort of scam? The investigating officer highlighted that despite the sums involved, this was simply a con trick. He reminded would-be victims that they should follow the adage that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

In this case, as in most, the victim could have protected himself by following the Which? checklist of seven ways to spot a scam.

They say it could be a con if:
1 You were contacted out of the blue;
2 The deal seems too good to be true;
3 You have been asked to give personal or financial details or pay an upfront fee;
4 You are under pressure to respond quickly;
5 The contact details are vague, for example a PO Box or premium rate number;
6 The correspondence contains glaring grammatical or spelling mistakes; or
7 You have been asked to keep the matter confidential.

But what do you think? Would you fall for this sort of con trick? Let us know in the comments.
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