Three people have been convicted for investment fraud and sentenced to a total of 24 and a half years for their roles, in a prosecution brought by the FCA.
A fourth defendant was convicted for trading without FCA authorisation.
On 3 April 2023, following an 8-week trial at Southwark Crown Court, Cameron Vickers (27 years old), Raheel Mirza (38 years old) and Opeyemi Solaja (33 years old) were convicted of conspiracy to defraud through a fake, London-based company called Bespoke Markets Group (BMG).
Their scam fleeced roughly £1.2 million from around 120 UK investors. Raheel Mirza was further convicted of perverting the course of justice and Reuben Akpojaro (40 years old) was convicted for trading investments without FCA authorisation. Akpojaro was acquitted of conspiracy to defraud and money laundering.
Between June 2016 and January 2020 Cameron Vickers, Raheel Mirza, Opeyemi Solaja and Reuben Akpojaro made cold calls to members of the public, using pseudonyms, to convince them to invest with BMG. Various UK and offshore companies and bank accounts were set up to try to distance the defendants from the fraud (including Upscale Limited, registered in the Marshall Islands) and to launder money.
They claimed to trade their clients’ monies in ‘Binary Options’ (a type of fixed odds financial betting), when in reality the money was shared among the fraudsters to fund their lifestyles. To encourage people to invest or invest more, BMG offered to match investments with their own funds and refund losses in the first 3-6 months. The investors had access to a sophisticated online platform that appeared to show their funds being traded, however, this was manipulated to show trading activity when there was none.
The first 3 defendants were sentenced on 6 April 2023. In sentencing, the trial Judge, His Honour Judge Hehir, remarked that ‘[BMG] was no more than a money-making machine, which operated to transfer as much of its unfortunate customers’ money into [the defendants’] pockets as possible’. ‘All 3 defendants were a loose confederation of criminally minded associates’ and ‘equally responsible’. He stated that they lived a lavish lifestyle from the money and often misery of the victims, including large cash withdrawals, expensive foreign travel, cosmetic dentistry, online gambling, property purchases, a wedding reception and partying in nightclubs.
Cameron Vickers was sentenced to 7 and a half years’ imprisonment. He claimed to be the ‘trading floor manager’ and would meet investors in person to convince them to invest.
Raheel Mirza was sentenced to 8 years’ imprisonment for the conspiracy to defraud offence and a consecutive 18 months for perverting the course of justice (a total of 9 and a half years). He was responsible for setting up and running the BMG offices to legitimise the operation and the phone lines to drive investments.
Opeyemi Solaja was sentenced to 7 and a half years’ imprisonment and directly received the most money from investors.
These defendants were also disqualified from being company directors for a period of 10 years. Reuben Akpojaro will be sentenced on 26 May 2023.
Therese Chambers, Executive Director, Enforcement and Market Oversight at the FCA, said:
‘We will continue to identify and disrupt rogue traders operating in the UK. BMG was a sham, and despite their best efforts to conceal their true nature with their offshore accounts, this operation shows we will take fraudsters to task and protect UK investors.
‘As part of our 3-year strategy we are committed to reducing and preventing conduct that can cause serious harm.’
Binary Options became FCA regulated on 3 January 2018. Binary options are a high-risk ‘all-or-nothing’ type of investment where 80% of investors lose their money. Traders will attempt to predict whether an event will happen or not and if they win, they will see a return, but if they are wrong, they will lose all their investment. Binary Options have been banned for retail use since July 2018.
Applications under the Proceeds of Crime legislation remain on foot to recover as much money from these defendants as possible for the benefit of the victims.
The FCA asks that any affected consumer who made an investment with BMG, and who has not already been in contact with the FCA about this, to make contact on 0800 111 6768 or via email to [email protected].