An Indian-origin broker has been sentenced to five and a half years' imprisonment for his role in a 2.8-million pound investment fraud targeting elderly and vulnerable people in the UK.
Charanjit Sandhu was among five people jailed for a total of nearly 18 years at Southwark Crown Court in London on Tuesday after the UK Financial Conduct Authority's (FCA) second-largest criminal prosecution ever, dubbed Operation Tidworth.
The case, described as a 'boiler room' scam, involved defrauding of vulnerable individuals out of life-changing amounts of money.
Boiler rooms are unauthorised brokerages that use cold-calling and other high-pressure sales tactics to sell worthless or overpriced investments to unsuspecting members of the public.
In reference to Sandhu's role, the FCA found he, as a senior broker, often used bullying sales tactics and false names.
During sentencing, Judge Christopher Hehir described Sandhu as having been "dazzled by the rewards of crime" and losing "his moral compass" and found that he had pestered investors "mercilessly by telephone", describing his conduct as "cruel and callous" and "chilling".
"These fraudsters callously targeted investors who were often elderly and vulnerable, lying to them to get them to part with significant sums of money," said Mark Steward, FCA executive director of enforcement and market oversight.
"Despite efforts to conceal and destroy evidence, the FCA, in one of its largest-ever investigations, was able to ensure that these criminals faced justice and ended up behind bars. Applications under Proceeds of Crime legislation remain on foot and the FCA is determined to recover as much money from these defendants as possible for the benefit of investors," he said.
The others sentenced this week were Hugh Edwards, Stuart Rea, Jeannine Lewis and Ryan Parker. A sixth defendant, Michael Nascimento, who will be sentenced on September 14, was the "controlling mind, instigator and the main beneficiary of the fraud", the FCA said.
According to the financial watchdog, between July 2010 and April 2014, in efforts to "maintain the lifestyle" of their ringleader Nascimento, the fraudsters cold-called and subjected vulnerable people to high-pressure sales tactics to persuade them to purchase shares in a company that owned land on the island of Madeira.
Investors were told the shares would increase substantially in price when permission to build 20 villas was granted, and were promised - but never received - guaranteed returns of between 125 per cent and 228 per cent.
Among the lies the 170 affected investors were subjected to, the FCA said, they claimed the schemes were partnered with Barclays Bank, planning permission had been obtained for the 20 villas, there was a guaranteed share buy-back, and Hilton Hotel chains had agreed to buy the completed development for 43 million pounds.
They were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud, fraud, money laundering and perverting the course of justice, as well as breaches of the UK's Financial Services and Markets Act (FSMA).
As part of their conviction, Sandhu, Edwards and Rea were also made subject to Serious Crime Prevention Orders, and are prohibited from involvement in financial services or the sale of any form of investment for a period of five years after release from prison.
They, along with Parker, are also banned from being company directors for up to 14 years.