Hong Kong businessman Jim Sutherland, who was a prosecution witness in the trial of Deborah Annells, has been acquitted of money laundering in relation to the UK’s biggest ever boiler room fraud.
Sutherland is the chairman of Zetland Fiduciary Group, a Hong Kong financial and corporate services company and attracted attention last year when giving evidence for the prosecution during the trial of tax consultant Deborah Annells. She was subsequently found guilty of fraud and perversion of the course of justice. Sutherland’s company had signed a memorandum or understanding agreeing to buy her company AzureTax for HK$1 million.
Sutherland was charged by the UK’s Serious Fraud Office (SFO) together with US businessman Jack Flader with one count of entering into or becoming concerned in a money-laundering arrangement, contrary to Section 328 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. The offences were alleged to have occurred between 2003 and 2008.
The pair were acquitted last week by a jury after just over three hours of deliberation following a nine-week trial in Southwark Crown Court, London. In a statement issued after his acquittal Sutherland was scathing in his denunciation of the SFO.
“The incompetence of the Serious Fraud Office was apparent from the outset of this investigation. The case against me was built on mud-slinging, smear and innuendo yet I was kept on bail for more than two years and forced to surrender my passport whilst in the UK and severely restrict my travel arrangements. I then had to sit through a farcical and lengthy trial relating to events which took place in Hong Kong and attracted no interest from the authorities there, but which a UK government agency nevertheless decided was its business. Serious questions need to be asked about the decision to bring this case.”
The SFO said on its website that the trial was the last in a series of three trials that centered on “what is believed to be the largest boiler room fraud ever pursued by a UK authority” and involved the loss of £70 million (HK$786 million) to more than 1000 UK investors. The previous trials in 2013 and 2014 resulted in nine convictions.
The fraud according to the SFO, was masterminded by Jeffrey Revell-Reade, 49, an Australian national who set up an operation in Madrid and sold shares in US – listed companies that turned out to be worthless.
Sutherland and Flader were accused of becoming involved with Revell-Reade and others in a scheme to launder the proceeds of this fraud.
Following his acquittal, Sutherland said he intended to resume his business operations in Hong Kong with Zetland Fiduciary Group.