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Land 'scams' techniques revealed

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Land 'scams' techniques revealed

 Landbanking victim William McNaught paid more than £100 000 for almost worthless strips of land.
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The strategies used by a landbanking brokerage to sell strips of land to unwary investors have been outlined to the BBC by a former employee.

The man worked for the Property Partnership, which sold virtually worthless plots across the Top Panerai Replica UK.

Many were persuaded to pay tens of thousands of pounds for land that is unlikely ever to be built on.

The firm, believed to be ultimately controlled by Kent businessman Scott Assemakis, is now in liquidation.

Pressure selling

William McNaught, from Yorkshire, was contacted by the Property Partnership three years ago, and persuaded to pay £101,000 in order to buy eight strips of land in different locations around the UK.

He said he was taken in by the high returns that were promised.

"They were so convincing. The broker told me the investment would achieve a profit of 100-130% in a period of 12 to 18 months," he said.

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The broker told me the investment would achieve a profit of 100-130%”

End Quote William McNaught, Land investor

Radio 4's Money Box has investigated a strip of land Mr McNaught bought from the Property Partnership near Towcester in Northamptonshire for £10,000 in September 2009. A local estate agent now values the land at just £75.

Recruitment tactics

"Gareth", whose name has been changed, worked for the firm for three months in 2007, after being recruited while he was working as a salesman in Spain. He told Money Box brokers were tempted with huge rewards.

"You are told that if you just stick with the company for 12 months they guarantee you will be a millionaire. It was very easy for me to go with them," he said.

Gareth sold plots of land to eight clients, charging them £10,000 for each. He said the brokers were given scripts to persuade people to part with their cash.

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The scripts were pretty much 100% lies”

End Quote "Gareth" Landbanking broker

"We were told to lie. The scripts were pretty much 100% lies. The top brokers were given free will to go off the script and all manner of promises were made there," he said.

"As long as that cheque came in, then the management were not bothered."

Big returns

Gareth said they were told to offer the prospect of fantastic profits to their clients.

"We were saying that to make 100% on top of your investment should be the very least that we are looking at," he said.

Gareth and other credible sources Money Box has spoken to say the Property Partnership was run by Scott Assemakis.

"It was well known, told from other managers, told from other brokers, it was just common knowledge," said Gareth.

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Guilt was heavily upon my shoulders. I knew I had to get out”

End Quote "Gareth" Landbanking broker

After three months Gareth left the firm as he was unhappy about how the firm was treating its clients and warned the police about its activities.

"Guilt was heavily upon my shoulders. I knew I had to get out," he said.

Shareholders in the Property Partnership have been keen to hide their identity. The shares for the parent company - known as Ultraclass - are held anonymously by a third party. Only a court order or demand from the police or the regulator can reveal who the real owner is.

Money Box investigated the Property Partnership in March. The firm was put into liquidation in April.

The documents held at Companies House concerning the liquidation confirm that Mr Assemakis had a major interest in the firm: they show him as the individual owed most money by the Property Partnership, over £53,000.

Similar operations

Money Box understands Mr Assemakis has also sold land through another company called Burnhill Land Investments Limited, and is involved with a third company which has just been launched to do the same thing, called Complete Building Systems Limited.

The similarities between the Complete Buildings Systems Limited website and the websites for the Property Partnership and Burnhill Land Investments Limited are striking.

Money Box invited Mr Assemakis to comment but he did not respond to the programme's requests.

The Financial Services Authority (FSA) said it had closed down five land investment schemes in the past year, in which £42m had been invested. However it can only act if it is able to prove that a firm is effectively running a collective investment scheme in which it promises to liaise with potential developers on behalf of clients.

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We have got 20 firms under enquiry”

End Quote Jonathan Phelan Head of unauthorised business at the FSA

Jonathan Phelan, head of unauthorised business at the FSA, told Money Box in March that his organisation was doing its best to clamp down on the problem.

"Where you have a collective investment scheme, we can get involved. We would estimate it to be around a £200m problem. We have got 20 firms under inquiry," he said.

He urged anyone who believed they had been a victim to come forward.

"Please, do come to us because there are a dozen, a hundred, a thousand people who are going to come after you and lose similar amounts of money. We really need you to tell us," he said.