Who: Michael Lloyd Wilson; Global Wine Investments Limited
Where: Central Criminal Court of England and Wales
When: 23 June 2016
Law stated as at: 19 July 2016
A solicitor who laundered at least £100,000 from a fine wine investment scam has been jailed for three years.
Michael Lloyd Wilson set up Global Wine Investments Limited (“GWI“) in April 2011 to attract investments in cases of high-value wine. However, the company spent just a tenth of its income on stock, with many investors receiving no wine whatsoever. Other victims were ‘compensated’ with lower-quality bottles when they complained.
Bank account records for GWI revealed that the company accumulated £631,261 between July 2011 and September 2012, but only £64,016 was spent on wine. Meanwhile, £100,000 was spent on ‘business costs’, another £21,089 went on ‘lifestyle payments’, £93,000 was withdrawn in cash and £150,000 was paid to individuals, including Wilson and his staff.
Keeping up appearances
The Old Bailey heard that GWI operated from plush offices in the City of London. Professional-looking brochures and advertisements, referring to Wilson’s status as a solicitor, were used to attract investors to the scheme.
One of the victims of the scam said he contacted the firm in October 2011 after seeing one such newspaper advert. He decided to invest £19,600 on two cases of Château Lafite 2008 and another £17,000 the following month.
His suspicions were aroused when, having asked to sell the original two cases, he was told by the London City Bond that no account was held in his name. After repeated complaints, evasive staff at GWI ordered cases of a different, lesser-quality wine worth only £25,245 – resulting in a loss of £11,355.
Other victims never received any wine at all, despite investing thousands of pounds.
Another investor – who committed £42,500 but only received one case of wine worth £8,500 – was so disgruntled that he obtained a court order for the winding up of GWI.
“Negligent… not dishonest”
Wilson – the sole signatory to the company bank account – blamed his team of salesman and claimed he was negligent rather than dishonest.
Wilson said: “I accept I was negligent. I accept I should have had more control over what the team was doing.
“I hired them to do a job. I paid them to do a job – they were supposed to be ordering the wines – I accept I was negligent but it wasn’t my intention.”
Wilson was convicted of possession of criminal property but the jury failed to reach a verdict on a charge of fraud.
Why this matters:
The case against Mr Wilson illustrates the severity with which the criminal justice system will punish misleading and dishonest practices, but it is also an indication of the ease with which members of the public can fall foul of nefarious schemes.
GWI’s business was seemingly legitimised by the defendant’s lawyerly status and the company’s glossy brochures and print advertisements – but the losses suffered by victims of the scam are a stark reminder that appearances can be deceiving.