First interview: How a simple phone call led to Norfolk businessman Graham Dacre losing £12m
The four-year probe into Norfolk’s biggest ever fraud, which would lead the county’s detectives on a worldwide pursuit of financial con artists, started with a simple phone call.
Katcharian appeared to be held in awe by the gang who described his great intellect, talent with computers and abilities as a trader.
During the trial he was referred to as the “controller” of the scheme, who first met fellow fraudsters, Alan Hunt and Arthur Ford-Batey in 2004.
The father is thought to be fluent in eight languages, and although born in Iran is a Danish citizen who has also lived in Germany and has links to Australia. The 60-year-old dated a blonde German woman in her twenties while the frauds were being carried out, and he was finally caught in December 2011, after an appeal was put out on BBC Crimewatch.
Katcharian had bought a ticket for a flight from Hong Kong to Zurich just before Christmas last year.
Police believed he was going to visit his German girlfriend and managed to catch him.
Before his arrest, Katcharian appeared to be travelling the world, and has even made an appearance in a best-selling book about a Wall Street scam by an American author. In the book called Octopus: The Secret Market and the World’s Wildest Con, author Guy Lawson tells how American trader, Samuel Israel III sought to save his failing hedge fund.
On his search for a saviour he came across Katcharian and his firm, Intercontinental Securities. Katcharian, who goes by a pseudonym in the book, was described as having the appearance of a “jet-lagged international businessman burdened by heavy responsibilities”.
A Canadian attorney calling himself Frederick Patry phoned Mr Dacre to ask him about his charity work in Norwich and mentioned a possible investment opportunity.
The Christian philanthropist had been on the look-out for a trading scheme since 2006, after a friend and Christian minister told him about a secret high-yield investment, which he claimed raised funds for humanitarian projects as well as the UN and the World Bank.
Mr Dacre’s interest was sparked by talk of charity work and Mr Patry agreed to visit.
Days later he was put in touch with the men who would go on to con him out of a slice of his fortune.
The father-of-two claimed he invested money on behalf of diplomats. Although he did not play a role in seducing Mr Dacre into parting with his millions, Esmene was thought to be in the gang’s hierarchy as much of the money was transferred into his bank accounts.
Two transfers of 5 million euros and 7.65 million euros were made into his accounts from an account held by Ian Yorkshire, who was convicted of laundering Mr Dacre’s money.
As the man whose accounts were used, the 56-year-old is set to be at the centre of the police’s bid to get the cash back.
Some of his cash has been frozen in a bank account at Coutts, whose clients include the Queen, and much has been traced to northern Cyprus.
But some of the money is thought to have been already spent in Britain.
He bought two homes in up-market Surrey in the village of East Molesey, near Hampton Court, for more than £1m.
Another £200,000 was spent on his expensive lifestyle, which included cigars and a laptop from Harrods.
“These guys ultimately won my confidence,” he said. “It’s easy to be wise with hindsight. At the time it appeared an amazing opportunity.”
For his investment of 15m euros, Mr Dacre was expecting a return of 90m euros in his first year.
“I was a classic target,” he said. “I was an entrepreneur, a risk-taker, approachable; I had reason to produce more money.”
The seduction was principally carried out by a man called Alan Hunt, who claimed to be a former Royal Marine.
The 65-year-old, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in May, convinced Mr Dacre that the money would be safe.
Through visits to the businessman’s Sprowston home in his dark blue Chrysler, with the personalised registration USD5M, the con artist won his trust and admiration.
Hunt impressed him with talk of his religious and charity work, and Mr Dacre was made to feel that it was down to him to prove he was worthy of the scheme. Although he admitted he never truly understood how the investment would work, the philanthropist believed the money would never leave his account until a week before trading was supposed to begin.
He was told that before being traded through his account, the cash had to cleared by going through another account – held by Ian Yorkshire who would eventually be convicted of laundering Mr Dacre’s millions.
“They had convinced me that they had access to this scheme. I had gone too far in my thinking to back off,” he said. “It was very sophisticated. It was not just me who fell for it.”
But when fed excuses as to why his money had not been traded, he became concerned and met the men behind the fraud – George Katcharian and Cemal Esmene for the first time.
“If I have any venom it would be for Katcharian but I haven’t,” Mr Dacre said. “He obviously does deserve his sentence but I would much prefer to see him return what he has stolen.”
Mr Dacre, 61, recalled Cemal Esmene, who he met in a Swiss bank, as an “idiot” – smoking cigars and wearing a bow tie, he tried to reassure Mr Dacre that his money was safe.
“I became extremely concerned,” he said. “It was about six months after I realised I had made a mistake. But I decided not to allow myself to pay for it twice. I was not going to pay for it emotionally. I refused to let it ruin my life.
“The hardest decision was, did I go public on the loss? I told these men that if they didn’t return the money I would go to the police. I knew I would receive good support and they have been outstanding.”
With the money still thought to be in bank accounts in northern Cyprus, Mr Dacre said anything he got back would be a bonus. But his charity work, which was supposed to benefit from the cash, did take a hit.
The income to Mr Dacre’s Lind Trust almost halved the year after the fraud from £6.93m in April 2008 to £3.75m in April 2009.
He said: “It has undoubtedly limited our ability to do things but we have continued to work and we have continued to generate funds. We just had to draw a line for a little while.”
And the businessman told the Norwich Evening News he was now looking to the future with exciting plans expected on the former fire station on Bethel Street.
He hinted the building would be put to “educational use”.
“What this trial has shown me is I’m not invincible,” he said. “There was a degree of embarrassment but I’m still smiling. I have had a hell of a time in Norfolk. I still trust people. I have loved living in Norfolk.”