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Fibre Broadband Fraudsters Handed Hefty Jail Sentences

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

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SFO probe leads to conviction of four men involved in bank fraud to fund fibre cables through sewers

A serious fraud office (SFO) investigation of an early ‘alternative’ fibre broadband pioneer has resulted in guilty verdicts against four men.

Late last week Southwark Crown Court ruled that four men were guilty of a £160 million financing fraud, after the SFO first began investigating the matter back in 2010/11.

Two other people involved were ruled not guilty of conspiracy to commit fraud, and conspiracy to give corrupt payments.

cable fibreSFO Probe

It was back in 2010 when the SFO first opened a misconduct investigation into Total Asset Finance (TAF), which according to ISPReview was the main source of funding for H2O Networks (part of the i3 Group).

It should be remembered that H2O Networks was a company that specialised in using the sewer networks to run fibre cables.

Under the guise of Fibrecity, H2O had attempted to roll-out ultrafast FTTP/H broadband networks across several UK cities, such as Bournemouth and Dundee using a combination of sewers and ‘micro ducting’.

At one stage H2O even won a contract to install a fibre network in York to link council sites including schools, libraries, as well as council offices and sports facilities.

But the deployments were racked with problems and issues, and the builds in Bournemouth and Dundee were halted in October 2010.

That same year the SFO launched a misconduct investigation into Total Asset Finance (TAF), which had provided H2O with its funding.

TAF had gone out of business owning Belgian bank KBC £142 million. That according to ISPReview prompted the bank to launch an investigation into the contracts held between TAF and H2O.

After that H2O (and i3) went into liquidation in April 2011, and the assets of the two were acquired in a management buyout by Cityfibre.

Guilty Verdicts

Last week the court in London found Stephen Dartnell and George Alexander of TAF, as well as Carl Cumiskey of H2O and Simon Mundy who worked for KBC guilty of “conspiracy to make corrupt payments” and “conspiracy to commit fraud against two business lenders” namely Barclays Bank and KBC Lease (UK) Limited (the UK wing of Belgian bank KBC).

The court found the four men guilty of obtaining almost £160 million between 2007 and 2010, after TAF defrauded KBC of £142 million and Barclays Asset Finance of £16.8 million.

“This was a carefully planned, complex and lucrative fraud which ran over three years. It took a determined investigation to ensure that those responsible for it were brought to justice,” explained director of the SFO, David Green CB QC. “We will now turn our attention to securing confiscation of criminal assets from those convicted.”

Kerry Lloyd of TAF and Elfed Thomas of H2O were both acquitted of the charges.

It seems that the court found that Dartnell, Alexander and Cumiskey had conspired to “create, sign and sell falsely inflated or entirely false contracts” from H2O to business lenders, Barclays Bank and KBC. Mundy was apparently paid nearly £900,000 as an “inside man” at KBC by Dartnell to approve the funding provided by KBC to TAF.

Jail Time

As last week it was reported that the four men were handed down hefty jail sentences, totally 44 years in jail between them.

“The evidence against each of you was compelling,” said Judge Gledhill QC in his sentencing remarks. “Not one of you has accepted dishonest involvement in these offences. Of course, you have each accepted that with hindsight that fraud was committed, but have sought to exonerate yourselves. One of the least attractive aspects of the case has been the attempts of each of you to blame others, including each other, for what happened.”

The TAF men were handed down the most serious jail sentences. George Alexander for example was sentenced to eight years in prison, as well as another four years on a second charge to run consecutively. Stephen Dartnell was jailed for ten years on one charge, five years on another (to run consecutively) and 6 years on a third charge (to run concurrently).

KBC’s inside man Simon Mundy was sentenced to seven years in prison on one charge, and six years on another charge to run concurrently.

Meanwhile H2O’s Carl Cumiskey was handed seven years in prison on one charge, and three years on a second charge (to run consecutively).

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