‘Scam to sell the Ritz for £250m’
Pair duped in fantasy plot, court is told
THE chance to buy The Ritz for a ‘ bargain’ £250million sounded too good to be true – and was, a court heard yesterday.
But two businessmen were duped into handing over a £1million advance for the world famous hotel in Piccadilly in a transaction that was founded on ‘one great big lie’, the jury was told.
It was in fact worth between £450million and £600million at the time and the men offering to sell it were in no position to do so, Anuja Dhir QC, prosecuting, said. ‘The deal that sounded too good to be true was a complete fantasy,’ she added.
She described how solicitor Conn Farrell, retired contracts manager Patrick Dolan and lorry driver Anthony Lee selected Terence
‘One great big lie’
Collins, who had a Dutch financial backer Marcel Boerkhoorn, as their ‘mark’ for the scam in 2006.
‘They promised their targets the opportunity to buy The Ritz hotel and casino in Piccadilly for the bargain price of £250million,’ Miss Dhir said. ‘They didn’t have the ability or the intention to fulfil that promise.
‘As the negotiations progressed they sucked their victims in with more false promises and frustrated them with unnecessary requests until they managed to extract from them a payment of £1million.’
The deal, codenamed Project Notting Hill, was targeted to attract those dealing in the high stakes of ‘trophy properties’, she said.
‘In that competitive world of secretive multi-million pound deals some people are prepared to take risks that might seem breathtaking to most of us,’ she told Southwark Crown Court in London. ‘Millions of pounds can be made and lost on transactions for trophy properties like The Ritz. What sets this transaction apart from most is that it was all based on one great big lie. The defendants were never in a position to be able to sell The Ritz.’
The court heard that Lee claimed to be a ‘close friend and working associate’ of the billionaire twin brothers Sir Frederick and Sir David Barclay who own the hotel. Lee and Dolan pretended they could arrange its sale. Farrell, a partner with law firm Farrell, Martin & Nee, added a ‘veneer of legitimacy’ to the scheme, Miss Dhir said.
Mr Collins, of a property and investment company called London Allied Holdings, was put in touch with Lee through a ‘middle man’, Karen Maguire, the court was told.
She specialised in finding property for private clients and had been told by Lee that he had access to a contract to purchase The Ritz for £200million. He told her he intended to sell it on for £250million, the court was told. In Decem- ber 2006, £1million was paid into an Irish bank in Lee’s name by a company owned by Mr Boerkhoorn.
He and Mr Collins had been led to believe that once the payment was made, contracts for the sale would be sent by Farrell to lawyers acting for Mr Collins, said Miss Dhir. But no contracts or other legal documentation were forthcoming.
Farrell, 57, of Aldershot, Hampshire, Dolan, 68, of Tottenham, North London and Lee, 49, of Beal, Goole, East Yorkshire, deny conspiracy to defraud. The trial continues.
World famous: The Ritz was said to be worth up to £600million at the time
Accused: Anthony Lee