British tax consultant Deborah Annells was today convicted of 47 charges of theft, fraud, and possession of a false instrument, in the High Court by Mr Justice Kevin Zervos. Annells sat somberly in court as the charges were read to her over a period of 50 minutes. Her conviction involved theft from four of her clients totalling more than HK$30 million. The prosecution agreed to accept her not guilty pleas to nine other similar charges.
Judge Zervos said he would hear mitigation from defense counsel Paul Stephenson and sentence Annells on Monday, July 11th. Annells’ guilty plea was not generally expected since she had earlier pleaded not guilty to these charges in a magistrates court several years ago.
Annells was the founder and chief executive of AzureTax, a company that specialised in arranging the tax affairs of expatriates in Hong Kong, which sometimes involved the setting up of trust funds. She is a past president of the Rotary Club of Hong Kong, and has sat on the general committee of the British Chamber of Commerce and was chairman of its finance committee.
She was arrested in December 2011 following complaints to the police by a number of her former clients and a former director of her company. Following her arrest she was remanded on police bail and able to continue her business. She remained on police bail after pleading not guilty to 56 charges of theft and fraud in November 2013 and February 2014 in Eastern Magistrates Court.
But she was remanded in jail in April 2014 after it was suspected she had used false documents in a court hearing in an attempt to vary the conditions of her bail and to retrieve her passport from the police, so she could travel abroad. In a trial for these offences late last year Annells was sentenced to four years jail for charges that included fraud, perverting the course of justice and possessing a false instrument.
According to the summary of facts read to the High Court today by prosecutor John Marray the 47 charges Annells was convicted of relate to four former clients, Helen Suzanne Gujadhur, Anthony Simon Parker, Hilary Margaret Cordell, and Edward Brian Nicol. Gujadhur is a qualified barrister who runs a management company in Mauritius. She met Annells at an international conference, and Annells sometimes referred clients to her. Parker is a qualified solicitor who has worked in the Asia Pacific region for about 20 years and was referred to Annells via a friend who had used her services. Cordell is a Hong Kong solicitor who had known Annells over a period of 10 years before using her to set up a family trust. Nicol, according to the summary of facts, had known Annells for many years, “as she had made many presentations to the British Chamber of Commerce.”
Parker was able to retrieve HK$3.0 million of the HK$3.12 million stolen by Annells by obtaining a charge on the Bel Air apartment which Annells then owned. Cordell was able to recover HK$5.2 million Annells misappropriated from her trust after taking civil action. However Gujadhur who lost US$1.5 million and Nicol, £964,4437, were unable to recover the funds Annells stole from them.
Marray’s summary of the facts showed that as soon as Nicol’s funds were deposited in AzureTrustees HSBC Client Account, Annells had immediately started to dip into them. In 24 transactions between March 19 2013 and April 19, Annells had diverted more than £964,000.
Marray went on to say that the four clients had appointed Annells’ company as trustee. But “Between June 2009 and August 2013, the Defendant [Annells] misappropriated the funds under the trust for her own use, namely to settle the operation expenses of the Group (rental payment for the Group’s office at Lippo Centre, salary payment to staff of AzureTax, legal fees to solicitors etc.), transfer to various overseas accounts and transfers to other trust clients of AzureTrustees.”
Marray also mentioned Graham Moore in his summary of facts as he was employed by Annells as a tax advisor in April 2007. He subsequently became a director of AzureTrustees in October 2010. “During his tenure as a director of AzureTrustees, he discovered lots of irregularities in the bank accounts of Azure Trustees and the clients trust accounts and alerted the same to the clients. He resigned in November 2011 and reported the case to the police on 20 December 2011.Annells convicted of 47 counts of theft and fraud