Clock stops in timeshare clean up

LAST UPDATED: 4 Nov, 2010 @ 17:00
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Clock stops in timeshare clean up

EXCLUSIVE By Caroline Peal

A BUSINESSMAN sought by Interpol is the latest Brit to be arrested as part of the crackdown on dodgy timeshare re-sales.

Christopher Gerald Hannington, whose past business connections would concern most people, was arrested on the Costa del Sol along with three other Britons.

Nine businesses in Benalmadena have also closed their doors following the latest Spanish police investigation into timeshare scams.

The recent raid also nailed a firm that had been run by notorious conman Johnny Ossatian, who is said to have spent the past eight years of his life avoiding arrest and living off the proceeds of fraudulent activities.

The holiday club boss is not amongst those facing charges, having passed away in April.

But a business associate of his prior to his death was the accused, Hannington.

A source close to the investigation explained: “A firm of accountants has been appointed by the High Court
in the UK to find assets belonging to Ossatian.”

But attempts to interview Hannington in connection with Ossatian have been unsuccessful.

“Hannington has allegedly refused them access to Ossatian’s computers, which would no doubt have all the data on them in relation to victims in the UK,” said the source.

The shut down firms, involved in the practice of re-selling unwanted timeshares for an upfront fee, were amongst many of their kind now operating on the Costa del Sol.

The unscrupulous activity – where, invariably, no purchaser exists and the upfront fee is pocketed – has ballooned in our recession-hit times, and police have carried out a string of raids over the past year.

But exactly how the timeshare resale teams hook punters in is something of a mystery, with them often claiming to be holiday companies or tour operators.

One of THE latest batch to be shut down was Viva Travel Spain, which is listed on a jobseekers’ website as ‘travel agency’ with a staff of five, specialising in package holidays.

Another firm, Inside Europe (Dentro de Europa) is the subject of much discussion on an online timeshare forum where owners chat about the pros and cons of timesharing.

“Owners must be extremely wary”

The firm, whose website is still live, was operating up until four months ago and the forum comments give an insight into how the re-sale industry works, right from the first cold call.

Brit James Anderson discussed how some timeshare dealers operate: “They phone, give their blurb, and ask for your email address so they can send ‘all their details’. This does not arrive. They then phone again, amazed that their email details have not been received and suggest something must be wrong with your computer or ‘pop-up’ filter! This is all to lull you into thinking they are genuine.”

A Canadian time-sharer said: “I’ve received many phone calls over the past few months. Today they indicated
if I pay 1116 euros they have an interested buyer. After I refused the price was lowered to 584 euros. This money would be put in a holding account until late January. High pressure. I declined so they offered to call back in two hours to give me time to think.”

Discussing his experience of timeshare re-sales another Brit David Walker said: “I received a call from
Olive Press – Your Number One paper for Crime them last week introducing themselves.

Another call came today saying they have a buyer offering £6000, but I need to secure the sale with 99 euros. I won’t be giving it to them though!”

Other firms that were shut down are Viva Choice, Viva Internation-al Vacation Agency SL, Blue Chip SL, Euro Independent Marketing, Westminster Consultants Agrico Ltd and Continents Connections SC.

Reports of Hannington’s business dealings are not good. They stretch as far back as 2001 when his firm MC&S Services was struck off and dissolved by Companies House in the UK after repeatedly failing to file accounts.

Whether the nine firms were breaking the rules is not yet known but Sue McNicol, head of UK operations for the timeshare selfregulator Resort Development Organisation, said: “Timeshare owners should be extremely wary of cold calls and should never pay money upfront to companies or individuals contacting them. They should only deal with a company that is bound by the RDO code of conduct.”

As well as supporting Spanish police, the RDO have hired their own ex police inspector from within the Spanish force, who heads up a team that has helped shut down 82 fraudulent companies in the last four years.

Spanish police are looking to speak to victims, and the enforcement unit at the RDO will pass on complaints.

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