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Four men receive 29 years in prison for multi-million pound investment fraud

Court 1

A Devon and Cornwall Police investigation

Four men were convicted of investment fraud on Wednesday (10 May 2017) at Blackfriars Crown Court in London.  Today all four have been sentenced to a total of 29 years in prison.


The four men; Christopher Sabin, age 44 of Shoreham in Kent– nine years, Tobias Ridpath, age 52 of Battle in Sussex – nine years, William Berkeley, previously Beasley, age 53 of Horsham in West Sussex – four years and Nicholas Start, age 35 of Tadley in Hampshire – seven years, conspired together to defraud 400 investors of over £7 million by convincing victims with lies and falsehoods that rare earth elements were a viable investment.


All four were also handed director disqualification orders; Sabin and Ridpath -15 years, Start – 10 years and Berkeley – six years.


The police believed the four defendants knew from the moment they set up this intricate and plausible fraud they were stealing money from victims.   


In December 2012 Devon and Cornwall Police received allegations that Denver Trading Ltd and Denver Trading AG (the Swiss equivalent of Ltd) were offering rare earth elements (also known as rare earth metals and/or oxides) for sale to the general public as an investment. 


Ridpath and Sabin knowing they were committing fraud, registered companies and made banking arrangements abroad, hid their role as the real directors by describing themselves as ‘consultants’ to hide their previous disqualifications as directors and dubious business history. 


The rare earth elements were being sold on behalf of Denver Trading Ltd through a series ‘brokers’, which included London Commodity Market whose offices were at Canary Wharf, London. The sole director was Start who was already known to Devon and Cornwall Police from when he was convicted of a boiler room fraud in 2011 and sentenced to a period of imprisonment.  Shortly after his release he became involved in this fraud.


Berkeley was initially employed by London Commodity Market before moving to Denver Trading Ltd when the police began their investigation. He changed his name by deed pole shortly before initial court hearings, again in an effort to hide his true identity and dubious business history.


The investigation quickly established that rare earth metals were not a viable commodity for the general public to invest in. Investors were receiving only a tenth of the value of their investment in rare earth elements and the brokers were being paid a 50% commission which the investor was lied to about.


To enhance a belief of plausibility in these rare earth elements as a viable investment an escrow agent was used to facilitate payment by the investor and a bonded warehouse used to store the rare earth elements. Despite these arrangements these rare earth elements are worthless to the small investor as there is no viable market for resale.


Investors spent over £7 million through the various brokers with Denver Trading Ltd on the basis of lies and deceit told by the brokers and Denver Trading Ltd.


It was the plausibility of the lies told, high pressure selling techniques, and the false belief in the security added by the escrow agent and bonded warehouse that led most victims to purchase this fraudulent investment.


Neil Blackhurst, Devon and Cornwall Police fraud unit manager said: “This type of investment fraud is an ever present in our society and I would ask anyone considering investment in any commodity to seek advice independent financial advice, that of friends, to look at the Action Fraud website for common scams, check Companies House for the viability of companies, and the Financial Conduct Authority for companies and individuals previous history.  If it looks too good to be true, it probably is.


“These types of investment fraud are commonly recycled for such commodities as; diamonds, wines, gold, wood, land and numerous other common commodities, and predominantly happen when there is a brief change in their availability in the market place.”


“To those who were victims of this fraud the police will seek to assist The Insolvency Service in the repatriation funds where they are identified and available to them.”


“I would like to thank The Insolvency Service who supported initial police action by using insolvency legislation to stop these companies trading and taking control of £1.3 million of criminal funds initially restrained by the Crown Prosecution Service.”


Press officer
Devon & Cornwall Police, Press office
Police headquarters, Middlemoor

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