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Boss of Basildon firm charged with fraud told jury he was "this close" to selling business to Barclays Bank
A MAN accused of conning investors out of £1.6million said he was "this close" to selling his business to Barclays Bank before he was shut down by the authorities.
Matthew Ames, 38, of Goldfinch Lane, Thundersley, denies two counts of fraudulent trading in connection with The Investor Club and Forestry for Life, two firms he ran from a converted farm barn in Dunton Road, Laindon.
Ames told Isleworth Crown Court he did not scam cash from ethical investors through fraudulent carbon credit and Sri Lankan teak tree schemes that were supposed to protect the rainforest.
He claimed he would have kept the firms solvent once Barclays bought his business.
He told the jury on September 7 2010 he and Nick Barclay, a Hong Kong based venture capitalist, met the bank to discuss a sell off of Forestry for Life.
Matt Ames in Forestry for Life brochure
He said: "We Met with Barclays that morning in Canary Wharf. It was very positive.
"Nick Barclay was in talks with the company. Barclays would have sold the product for us.
But this never happened after the FSA forced the liquidation in March 2011. He was arrested six months later and made no comment in interview, on the advice of solicitors.
The court has been told Ames covered up his fraud by using a Ponzi scheme, meaning he was repaying investors with new investors’ money, and used big names like former footballer Jack Charlton to promote it.
It is also claimed no land was ever purchased by the two firms for planting teak trees or protecting rainforest to generate carbon credits which can be traded like shares.
He admitted never acquiring any land, but said all the industry experts he employed knew he was selling "off plan" which means it would be bought using investors' money.
He insisted the investments were genuine and would have provided 12 per cent returns he promised to investors if the Financial Services Authority had not forced him to liquidate the businesses, which had debts of more than £1.6million and just £100,000 in the bank.
Ames admitted to the jury he used investors' money to run the company, pay commissions to sales agents, and even to fund the guaranteed interest rates investors were promised in the first three years.
Matt Ames Lamborghini, rented with investors' cash, parked at his Thundersley home
However, Ames said former employee environmentalist Dr Bremley Lyndogh, had independently managed to get some of the rainforest protection projects up and running since the liquidation, which proved it had been a legitimate venture.
He said: "You have heard from Bremley these projects are happening just unfortunately not with our investors."
Forestry for Life former offices in Laindon
Ames said he only ever paid himself £75,000 in wages since setting up the firms in 2009.
He said: "I didn't set out to steal 75,000 out of £1.6million. I refute everything that the crown says."
Chartered accountant David Middleton told the court he was persuaded to cash in shares to plough £75,000 into the scheme.
Mr Middleton said Ames boasted to him in 2009 teak was outstripping the gold, oil, and stock markets.
He was promised £11,250 a year in interest (15 per cent) on the loan to Ames to buy land in Sri Lanka to grow teak trees.
Matt Ames and Jack Charlton at Forestry for Life launch in 2010
But the court heard Ames was making up terms and conditions of his investment "as he went along"', While trying to convince the Middletons to invest and copied and pasted them from another firm Oxigen he briefly worked for.
Forestry for Life Investor Joseph Scanlan said he believed he was signing up to a low risk, ethical carbon credits scheme guaranteeing 12 per cent interest a year in mid 2010.
He said: "I paid in 100,000 euros. It said it was a legally-binding agreement and I took this to be true."
Page from Forestry for Life brochure
Yet after receiving two payments of 1,000 euros his payments dried up.
Defending Ames, Adam Budworth, said he had taken time out of his own Christmas Eve to call Mr Scanlan to say there were problems with the investment, and gave him his personal mobile phone number.
He said: "This was the behaviour of an ordinary decent businessman trying to carry out a business, but something dreadful has gone wrong."
The trial continues.