EXCLUSIVE By James Bryce
FROM the outside it is nothing more than a typical Spanish villa, shielded from the busy Coin to Alhaurin el Grande road by a line of trees and a high brick wall.
In fact, there is nothing to distinguish it from those nearby.
But behind the unassuming exterior lies a highly-organised and apparently lucrative operation headed by blacklisted British businessman Terence Wright.
Since the Olive Press reported last month that the UK’s Financial Services Authority (FSA) had blacklisted Wright from giving financial advice in the UK, new documents have come to light linking the Brit with a whole string of other dubious firms.
Anne’s Diary, Attlee Wurth, Capitol Hill Group, Hunter Rowe Financial, and Kauffmann & Associates… it reads like a rollcall of blue-chip companies on the FTSE 100.
But this couldn’t be further from the truth. All of them have links to Wright and are similarly on the FSA list of ‘unauthorised’ overseas firms operating in the UK.
A list of companies running out of Alhaurin – also including PFR Services and Alhaurin Wealth Planning (AWP) – use UK phone numbers in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to mislead potential investors.
Of even more concern is that most of them are not even companies, according to one former employee John, who worked for Wright for three months last year.
“They are just names of websites and have no real identity anywhere. There is no company and no comeback,” said John, who found the job via a classified advert looking for telesales staff.
“Wright came across as a pleasant guy at first but he could be quite threatening and seemed very paranoid, which is perhaps quite understandable,” explained John, who has asked us not to reveal his surname out of fear of ‘reprisals’.
“On one occasion he threatened to hit me with an iron bar. He is a very nasty person.”
He continued: “Wright bragged about how he earns millions and doesn’t pay tax in the UK or Spain as he uses accounts in the Channel Islands, moving his money around.
“And he has at least one alias, depending on who he is talking to.
“The whole thing is a big confidence game and comes with a set of well worn scripts to suck people in.”
The Olive Press has had access to a huge dossier of information on Wright and his dealings.
Stretching back a number of years, he has a database containing contact details for hundreds of mostly UK clients.
Many of them have been hooked into a share investment scheme Anne’s Diary, which the FSA describes as being an ‘unauthorised company’, likely to be linked to a ‘boiler room’ scheme.
More recently, he has been promoting wine and mining investment schemes, as well as one specific land investment scheme in Switzerland ‘that turned out to be in Spain, near Valencia, in fact’.
“It was probably not a very good investment,” explained John. “But that is the problem. I got sick of doing the hard sell and selling inappropriate schemes to poor people, who faced even losing their retirement money. My conscience got the better of me.”
His evidence is backed up by another female employee who also worked for Wright earlier this year.
The Coin-based mother explained: “In particular we were selling into a wine investment scheme in Spain and a wheat investment scheme in Australia.
“They didn’t mature for at least four years and the idea was that investors got a share in the profits.
“They claimed that it was a ‘no brainer’ as all the wheat in the Australian scheme had already been bought by Chinese merchants. I was sceptical.”
She continued: “I became particularly suspicious of the company after watching a programme on television about similar schemes.
“It was remarkably similar to the job in Alhaurin and I felt uncomfortable straight off.
“I had to answer calls for both PFR Services and AWP and I had to ensure that I didn’t get the two mixed up. It was all rather murky.”
She added: “There were around four sales people working in the office and Terry was very much the man pulling the strings in the background.”
She continued: “Most of the clients come from the UK via their websites.”
These websites are said to include sellmyukpension.com and cashinyourpension.com, both of which have a remarkably similar feel in look and offering.
Wright is also involved in real estate website propertyshopinspain.com, which promises that its wide range and quality of services and ‘constant attention to detail… guarantee that your interests are safe’.
It concludes: “You are in good hands with Terence Wright Associates.”
However, a number of documents provided to the Olive Press – including a training manual for staff working for blacklisted Kauffmann & Associates – give a fascinating insight into the mindset of the blacklisted boss.
Wright – who is said to use the alias ‘Ben James’ (indeed this is a name someone in his office gave when the Olive Press called PFR last month) – invites recruits to imagine themselves as a Samurai warrior ‘engaging the enemy’, when prospecting for business.
It includes a quote from Sun Tzu’s The Art of War: “Lure him with fabulous gains – then attack. This way you hold all of the cards.”
This sums up the tactics similar to those used by so-called ‘boiler rooms’, in which a room full of people cold-call clients, using high pressure sales techniques to get their victims to part with their money, usually in a share scheme.
The teams, which are not authorised by the FSA (nor the Spanish equivalent, the CMNV) to give investment advice, typically sell shares which either don’t exist or eventually turn out to be worthless.
A former employee of Wright’s, whose name is still linked on the internet to AWP, has set up a similar number of websites from an office in Marbella.
According to a number of complaint forum websites, his services are very similar.
In one post made last week on website whocallsme.com a former employee claims that this former employee was behind the FSA-blacklisted website unlockmypension.net.
An FSA spokesman, Toby Parker, was quick to thank the Olive Press last night for passing on the documents and confirmed the regulator’s ongoing interest in Wright’s activities.
“The FSA is concerned about the type of business he is operating,” he said.
“While we are unable to comment on specific cases for procedural reasons, we are grateful for the information.”
The Olive Press tried on a number of occasions to put the allegations to Wright.
At his villa in Coin yesterday, at least five workers refused to comment. One said: “I can’t say anything.”
A series of emails were ignored and when Wright himself later phoned the paper he promised to call back, but never did.
A month ago, someone giving the name Ben James said: “You can go after Terry Wright as much as you like, but if you drag my company (PFR Services) through the mud I will sue.”
He added: “We are not a pension company. The IFAs are just fed up that we are taking clients away from them. What we are doing is completely legitimate.”
Case study: Inside the boiler room
THE so-called boiler room scams first sprung up in Spain in the late 1980s when Americans claiming to be investment bankers came to Marbella after being kicked out of Amsterdam.
In the early 1990s, Costa del Sol-based financial investigator Gwilym Rhys-Jones exposed a 1.4 billion euro scam, the world’s biggest ever fraud at the time.
Recalling the risks involved, the Estepona-based Welshman told the Olive Press: “I was told the Marbella National Police actually put a guard on me without my knowledge because they heard I was due to be knocked off.”
The global kingpin was Thomas Quinn, a disbarred Brooklyn lawyer linked to a New York Genovese mafia family, behind the scenes.
Historically, boiler rooms have targeted older people with previous experience of investments or share dealing, with National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) figures suggesting 50 per cent of victims are over 65.
But boiler rooms are starting to target victims who have redundancy money or those who are not experienced investors, asking for smaller sums of money to invest.
New strategies to target investors include the promise of recovering money lost to the original boiler room scam, or to purchase the client’s worthless shares…only, of course, once an ‘up-front fee’ has been paid.
In the past financial year, 27 million euros was reported stolen through boiler room fraud to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud reporting centre.
This week Spanish police cracked down on the biggest boiler room scam yet in Europe, when they arrested 17 Britons in Mallorca over a 57m euro fraud.
The average loss reported by a victim is 140,000 euros, with the highest single reported loss at 9.2 million euros.
Serious Fraud Office Director Richard Alderman explained: “A boiler room is a predatory and orchestrated ‘attack’ on private investors and shows callous dishonesty.
“People should think twice when hard-sell investment offers, usually unsolicited, appear tempting. ‘No’ is the right answer.”
It is little surprise that in a recent list of the UK’s richest criminals, coming top of the list with an estimated £520m fortune was Sheridon Cox, who ran a network of boiler rooms.
Most recently, in March, another of Britain’s biggest ever fraudsters pleaded guilty to a 92 million euro boiler room fraud, linked to Spain, that accounted for at least 2,300 victims across the UK.
Richard Pope from Hertfordshire was one of the leaders of an international crime gang that used a network of Spanish boiler rooms to target investors between 2004 and 2008.
Pope was extradited from Spain, having been caught following an appeal on BBC’s Crimewatch.
Detective superintendent Bob Wishart said: “Pope is on a par with some of the most unpleasant villains out there,” he said.
Last year, two Britons were jailed for an eight million euro boiler room fraud using call centres in Barcelona.
David Arthur Vidgeon, 31 and Rahul Natwar Patel, 35, were both sentenced to seven years for defrauding around 1,250 investors.