As most of you will have seen in the press by now, Fortuna Estates in it’s various guises has been widely reported on by the press in most of Europe, with several bloggers and apparent authorities simply copying and badly translating the El Pais article, each adding some interpretation or another as they go.
Now some of that has died down, The Investment Property Rumour Mill brings you the actual story, with many tantalizing connections to the boiler room industry, A world famous arms dealer, One of the largest banking cons in living memory, a car rental company, one of the largest telephone company scams of all time, all stretching from sunny Spain as far as the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Monaco the USA and beyond!
For those of you that don’t know, Fortuna Land and it’s many alternate guises was for all intents and purposes, a landbanking company. Basically offering investment opportunities into land that was “assured” to get planning. Not the first time we have heard of this, several have made the British press of late, UK Land Investment (UKLI) and Hambrook and Greenstock to name a couple ordered to cease trading or be conveniently liquidated.
Fortuna was just that little bit different though. With figures that have substantial connections in some unusual areas, the history behind the formation of Fortuna, how some of the funding was doubtlessly raised in the first place to get the operation off the ground to finance it’s high profile
advertising and marketing campaigns reads like a fantastic tale of fiction suitable for a Hollywood movie.
The plot starts in several places (as far as we can trace, although there could well be more history to this!) to a boiler room (a fake stock promoting company selling worthless or non existent stocks and shares) called Goodman Hart. Goodman Hart were selling shares in a company which many would have heard of, Spantel. Spantel does still exist to this day offering telecoms services. The stock itself however, (SPAL listed on the over the counter board in the USA) is worthless after being artificially manipulated and sold to investors.
Goodman Hart is believed to have run under various names, and offered several other investments to unsuspecting punters in a bid to “switch” them out of the failed investment at a price, EDHC (European Diversified Holdings) and Adrentacar.
The main people behind the scenes at the time, were Jerome Andre, Frank Palumbo, and in the distance, and old friend who technically controlled Spantel, a Mr. Mohamed A Khashoggi. Son of arms dealer, Adnan Khashoggi. (Adnan is very well known for the manipulation of BCCI Bank of Credit and Commerce International years ago, as well as the Iran contra scandal)
Frank Palumbo was a barred securities dealer, banned by the NASD for fraud (National Association of Securities Dealers) in 1992 for artificially controlling stock in three companies. (Now believed to be in Monaco)
Jerome Andre (Currently believed to be in hiding in Sri Lanka) was a relative nobody prior to Goodman Hart, the history on him is a little vague. Once he started making money though, was well known in the bars of Marbella and Puerto Banus, the casinos and brothels. Remembered by many salesmen apparently for saying whilst drunk in morning sales meetings “you need an addiction to succeed in this business, if you don’t have one, don’t come back until you get one!”
As time went by the heat increased, clients were sick of hearing why their stocks weren’t making any money so new salesmen were bought in on a constant basis. One such fraudster who had previously run his own deals, and recently arrested in Spain on another charge is Mark Stephen Dalton. Dalton was previously arrested running an investment scam, Rutherford Limited with another convicted fraudster, Radin Akhbar, as exposed by Tony Hetherington of the Sunday Mail. Another heavy salesman was an old chum of Palumbos days at Gant, Ron Jones. Ron is now believed to be in the Philippines pushing yet more failing stock after a half hearted attempt to set up a franchise in the Marbell Center in Marbella, allegedly with Hooters involved. Ron Jones is also reportedly at least partly responsible for bringing another company to the table, Adrentacar, again a company that never listed and was nothing more than a couple of hire cars at Malaga airport.
Eventually, the clients got too weary and the sales pitches weren’t working anymore. Time for a new ruse. Fortuna was born.
A myriad of companies was set up in Spain, Cyprus, and even an old company of Jerome’s, Dancing Brave SL was wheeled out of the cupboard to launder and clean the money.
Frank and Mohamed appear to have left the picture at this point, Jerome had been extradited to face charges in a couple of European countries, and returned to run the show, or at least what was left of it.
It would seem that Jerome needed some other names to use as “fall guys” for the project, as well as other front men for the selling itself. This is where DANIELE EMBOULAS, ATUL SHARMA, ABDULRAHMAN AL ANSARI and T. JAMES. A. SATHASIVAM all come into play. Each playing their part to either go on the books or add credibility to the companies, a list of some of which are as links at the bottom of the page.
What is the state of play now?
Well, the forums and chat rooms around the world are at the point of melt down with all of this, none however have tracked back as to how it all started or was funded. Most of the time the answers are found in the trail preceding the fraud. All of the companies were registered within the requirements of the law at the time. If you wish to see them there is a few links at the bottom.
What if I’m a victim?
There are a few options it would seem.
Join the (rather confusing at times) forums and boards, see if you can team up with strangers and string a case together.
Hire your own lawyer
Take up with a mediation/law firm.
The chat rooms are all over the place, the largest we found being fool.co.uk, (so much so they have had to move part of it to prevent the crashing of their site.) The dangers there though is no-one posting, or what they are posting can be easily verified. It could be you end up in another scam. One would suggest erring on the side of caution as you would know these people no better than Fortuna!
Hiring your own lawyer is likely to be costly to say the least, and unless you are able to consolidate and confirm a lot of information yourself, you are likely to just end up even further out of pocket.
Mediation companies? We will admit whilst we are not the biggest fans of such companies (ambulance chasers as well call them) there is something to be said for them if you follow a few simple rules.
Mediation companies that work on no-win, no-fee are always more expensive in the long run, and will not take cases they are not already working on or have had some success with.
Companies that charge an upfront fee? Check them first! Some are cons from the start. Whist there isn’t a great deal of multi country legal paperwork covering this area, a good place to start is checking if they are registered or regulated.
How can I avoid being taken by future scams like this?
The method of pressure selling on the telephone has been around for many years, but perfected by timeshare and even more so by the boiler room industry, finely tuning very specific scripts which salesmen read, time after time to unsuspecting victims. There are several things to consider when it comes to avoiding these scams. If you have been scammed once, you will be on a list that will do the rounds with other companies, so every phone call or e-mail you receive should be treated with caution.
If it sounds to good to be true, without doubt, it is.
In the real world as far as stockbrokers are concerned, they are not permitted by law to “cold call” you to offer investments.
The property industry has a long way to go before it has any kind of universal regulation to protect investors, until then, ask for all the documents, go see the property if you can, get a local lawyer that speaks the language of the country you are doing business in. An English lawyer in England trying to assess an investment in Spain has no chance at all of ensuring everything is correct. The laws are too different.
We are approached regularly by law firms and mediation companies offering their services, as well as the press looking to sensationalize some of the stories we publish. We have refrained form accepting offers to ensure that we only offer clean sound fact as far as possible, and state when rumours are rumours.
The same thought should be applied to recovering money from investments as it does to making them in the first place. Research. If you don’t know or understand, don’t do it!
Some useful links.
Company Registration for Dancing Brave SL
We would have supplied a link to the original Oanna website, but it has been suspended by the hosts.
There are other company names that have been used by Fortuna and Oanna, most of which to purchase land or launder money, many with similar names, some in Cyprus, others in Spain and doubtlessly more will appear. We will be returning to this as more information is uncovered, and apart from anything else, this is turning into an epic in its own right!