Two men accused of an elaborate fraud on a Norfolk businessman went on trial at Norwich Crown Court yesterday.

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George Katcharian and Cemal Esmene allegedly conspired to defraud Graham Dacre out of almost £12m and laundered the money.

Katcharian, 60, a Danish citizen, is also accused of conspiring to defraud a German church of 10m euros, and both are charged with laundering the cash - charges which they deny.

Yesterday, the jury was told how Mr Dacre, the Christian philanthropist behind the Open Venue and the Open Academy in Heartsease, fell for a deception compared to a “card trick” by prosecutor Mark Fenhalls.

He handed over £11.9m in May 2008 and was promised huge returns on the investment through a high-yield trading platform, which he was told was controlled by Iranian-born Katcharian.

He sent the money to a Swiss bank account and the cash was supposed to be transferred back to him.

But the promised returns never materialised.

Mr Dacre, who sold his car dealership chain Lind Automotive Group for £108m in 2006, was described by Mr Fenhalls as a “fine target”.

Mr Fenhalls told the jury: “No trading took place. The funds were squirreled away.”

Within a week of being paid into the Swiss bank account, £5m of Mr Dacre’s millions were transferred to an account in Cyprus in Esmene’s name.

Mr Dacre went to meet Turkish-born Esmene, 56, in Zurich in June 2008 to arrange the opening of his bank account which the money would be traded through.

But the court was told he was fed lie after lie, as to why the promised trading was being delayed.

In December 2008 he reported the case to Norfolk police.

Mr Fenhalls described the two defendants as “sophisticated fraudsters” who were at the “top of the tree”.

He said: “They controlled much of the money that was taken and they were playing roles behind the scenes.”

In May, Alan Hunt, 65, of Poole, Dorset, was convicted of conspiracy to defraud Mr Dacre, alongside Arthur ‘Trevor’ Ford-Batey, 62, of Carlisle, while Ian Yorkshire, 62, of Clarendon Villas, Brighton, was convicted of conspiracy to launder the money. The trial continues.

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