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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Criminal past of John Hirst the island fraudster

From The Sunday Times
November 22, 2009

Criminal past of John Hirst the island fraudster

By Danny Fortson

JOHN HIRST, the financier being investigated by the Serious Fraud Office over an alleged £20m Ponzi scheme, served two-and-a-half years in jail in the 1990s for similar offences.

The SFO launched an investigation into Hirst’s Gilher Inc earlier this month after he abruptly left Mallorca, where he spent the past seven years. More than 150 people, many of them British expats, gave him an estimated £20m to invest on the promise of “guaranteed” 20% annual returns.

He returned to Britain in August claiming to be suffering from leukaemia. He closed the fund but has not returned money to investors. Inquiries have since revealed a criminal past.

Hirst was sentenced to five years in prison in 1992 for “obtaining property by deception” while working for Allied Dunbar, the financial services firm, in the Halifax area. According to former colleagues, he was caught selling false investment policies to clients for his personal gain.

Philip Sweeney, his lawyer at Opus Law, a firm specialising in fraud, said Hirst has suffered a mental breakdown and was last week released from the psychiatric unit of a hospital. “He was in there for a couple weeks. He had a mental breakdown,” said Sweeney. He added that Hirst will “co-operate fully” with the investigation.

In Mallorca, Hirst was a fixture on the expat social scene and known as a charming, affable man, much like his days in Britain. John Holmes, a friend from his Allied Dunbar days, said: “If you met him today, you’d believe whatever he said. He was always polite and dressed immaculately. He was a pillar of society.”

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