Town ‘be­came porn and dat­ing pay­ment hub’

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

Hun­dreds of peo­ple in a for­mer steel-mak­ing town be­came di­rec­tors of com­pa­nies in­volved in pornog­ra­phy, dat­ing, di­ets and travel, a Reuters in­ves­ti­ga­tion has re­vealed. Res­i­dents in Con­sett, County Durham, were paid to for­ward post that came to their ad­dress, but said they oth­er­wise had no in­volve­ment in the com­pa­nies. One, John Maw­son, said he “didn’t re­ally know” what his role in­volved. Si­mon Dowson, who set up the le­gal firms, said ev­ery­one was in­formed. Mr Dowson, 35, from Shot­ley Bridge formed the shell en­ti­ties to pro­vide a UK ad­dress, di­rec­tors, com­pany records and tax re­turns to meet UK re­quire­ments so over­seas on­line busi­nesses could trade in Europe. Th­ese were busi­nesses con­sid­ered by credit card com­pa­nies to be at high risk of re­fund re­quests. The in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Reuters news agency found at least 429 un­con­nected peo­ple in the town were paid £50 cash to be­come di­rec­tors, with a fur­ther £150 a year for for­ward­ing com­pany mail and fees for ex­tra pa­per­work. Mr Maw­son, 61, was re­cruited by a neigh­bour who had al­ready signed up. “All we were told was that we would just get let­ters sent and all we had to do was hand them on,” he said. “Money was rather tight. All we wanted was a bit of ex­tra cash.” An­other di­rec­tor, An­drew McBride, 46, said he did not re­alise what he had agreed to, but ac­cepted he should have checked fur­ther. Mr Dowson was paid be­tween £2,500 and £3,000 per shell com­pany, ad­min­is­ter­ing 1,200 at his peak. Us­ing un­con­nected in­di­vid­u­als as di­rec­tors pre­vented “cross con­tam­i­na­tion” if credit card com­pa­nies with­drew ser­vices from one com­pany, he said. “It’s a very sim­ple oper­a­tion. It’s com­mon­place. It’s just not com­mon­place here,” he said. Mr Dowson said the di­rec­tors were given in­for­ma­tion about the com­pa­nies, their role and any doc­u­ments they had to sign. “There was no­body ever kept in the dark,” he said. Mr Maw­son only found out a few years ago that one of his di­rec­tor­ships in­volved pornog­ra­phy sites and wanted “noth­ing more to do” with the ar­range­ment. Mr Dowson said the over­seas com­pa­nies’ trade in­cluded travel, bingo and “vanilla” dat­ing sites, not just adult en­ter­tain­ment. He has been in­ves­ti­gated by the In­sol­vency Ser­vice, part of what is now the govern­ment’s De­part­ment for Busi­ness, En­ergy and Industrial Strat­egy, he said. Some of the firms us­ing his ser­vice have also been in­ves­ti­gated, and some closed down, but there have been no crim­i­nal charges or sanc­tions brought against Mr Dowson or any of the di­rec­tors. He was told what he had been do­ing was “in­cor­rect or maybe not best prac­tice” but “not il­le­gal in any way, shape or form”, he said. He has agreed to stop us­ing un­trained peo­ple as di­rec­tors and said his com­pany for­ma­tion busi­ness would soon close. The govern­ment de­clined Reuters’ re­quest for com­ment.

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