A former financier who defrauded investors, promising them “remarkable returns”, was convicted on Monday of masterminding a £70mn Ponzi-style scheme.
A jury on Monday found Anthony Constantinou, who ran foreign exchange trading firm Capital World Markets (CWM), guilty on seven charges including fraud by false representation, two counts of fraudulent trading and four of transferring criminal property.
Prosecutors alleged in the trial that the 41-year-old, who absconded halfway through his trial, oversaw a “toxic atmosphere” at the now defunct CWM, which was at the heart of the fraudulent investment scheme. CWM received around £70mn between 2013 and March 2015 after which City of London Police raided its offices. Hundreds of victims lost around £50mn, the court heard.
CWM offered investors, including individuals from the Gurkha and Nepalese community, returns of around 5 per cent a month, but the firm’s managed account was in reality a Ponzi-style scheme with little foreign exchange trading, prosecutors claimed.
Constantinou, who denied wrongdoing, was present for the start of the trial in March but by mid-April he failed to turn up and the jury was told he had “voluntarily absented himself.” He did not testify in his defence although he was legally represented. An international warrant has been issued for his arrest.
Prosecutors claimed that CWM’s finances showed extravagant spending from clients’ funds, including £3mn spent by Constantinou on his lifestyle, including his wedding and a CWM launch party. Prosecutors alleged that CWM paid investors directly from the amounts invested and spent the money on other things such as sponsorship deals with Chelsea Football Club and rugby league club Wigan Warriors.
The jury at Southwark Crown Court were told of the office atmosphere at CWM in Heron Tower, central London where Constantinou, son of the murdered fashion tycoon Aristos Constantinou, was sometimes drunk at work and used to “brandish wads of cash”. The trial heard Constantinou had been likened to the “Wolf of Wall Street” but in reality was more like the “Wolf of Hampstead” — the London district where he then lived.
David DuRose KC, prosecuting, told the trial: “The Crown alleges this was a big fraud from start to finish. There were no segregated accounts. And almost no evidence of any foreign exchange trading.” The prosecutor added that Constantinou — who claimed to be super wealthy and told people he was “halfway to being a billionaire” — had control of the bank account which the money was paid into.
One former employee Jay Markham, a stockbroker, who worked for CWM between 2014 and 2015 testified to the trial that Constantinou was “very aggressive” and a “micromanager who ordered people around constantly” and said that the staff kitchen was filled with Grey Goose vodka and champagne but only Constantinou was allowed to drink in the day and “was drunk in the office, often very drunk”.
Markham also testified that the words “Ponzi scheme” were “banned in the office” by Constantinou who would instantly sack anyone who used the phrase.
Constantinou’s defence team accepted that there had been a fraud in relation to CWM’s managed account but maintained that Constantinou knew nothing about it and the fraud had been committed by others. No one else other than Constantinou has been charged as a result of the CWM investigation.
David Walbank KC, defence barrister for Constantinou, told the trial in closing speeches that it was “ludicrous” for prosecutors to suggest that Constantinou “acted as a lone wolf”. He said Constantinou had acted “like a selfish, spoiled, entitled man-child” and was “not a nice man to deal with” but told the jury “none of this makes him a criminal.”
Detective Inspector Nichola Meghji, from the City of London Police, said: “This has been a long-running and complex investigation. Anthony Constantinou is a career criminal who is out to make as much money for himself as possible, with no regard for anyone else.”
Constantinou will be sentenced in his absence on June 9. Lawyers for Constantinou did not immediately respond to requests for comment.