A court has heard how a group of fraudsters conned hundreds of people out of £4.5 million through bogus wine investments.
Southwark Crown Court heard that Daniel Snelling, 38, his sister Dina Snelling, 35, and their cousin, Rebecca McDonald, 42, carried out two frauds over the space of three years, often targeting elderly people’s life savings.
The trio initially set up Nouveau World Wines, which promised to invest in the best Australian wines. Investors would pay on average thousands of pounds each for wine to be bought and sold, but much of the wine was never purchased. When Nouveau investors found out the company was folded, but the jury was told that a second company, Finbow Wines, was then set up.
Prosecutor Julian Christopher QC told the court that Nouveau investors paid an average of £5,000 for 72 bottles of the finest Australian wines. These were due to be stored in Australia for several years to gain in value.
Christopher added that Nouveau did buy wine, but while the investments should have bought 39,000 bottles, the company only ever had a maximum of 11,349 bottles.
He told the court: “The suggestion was that in two or three years’ time they would sell that wine at a huge profit and they (Nouveau) would make their money by taking 10% of the profit.
“Lots of people were attracted by that. Often elderly people investing their savings. After they invested once, they were being targeted again and again.”
The court was told that when suspicious investors started asking questions, Nouveau ceased trading and Finbow was set up.
Sales staff working for Nouveau were told overnight that they were now working for Finbow, the court heard.
Mr Christopher told the court the defendants were in the process of setting up a third firm, M2M, specialising in “fine old world wines” when they were arrested in March 2010.
Mr Christopher added: “Whether Nouveau was always intended as a front from the outset or whether, as time went on, the temptation and opportunity became too much to resist is a question you may want to consider.”
Daniel Snelling’s girlfriend, Kelly Humphreys was the companies’ training director and she is also due to stand trial over her alleged involvement at a later date. All four currently on trial deny all the charges against them. The trial, which continues, is due to last 10 weeks.