The brochure that promoted the African farming investment scheme was unequivocal. “We harvest - you profit,” it declared on the cover.
Promotional videos posted on YouTube showed a busy agricultural operation in Sierra Leone where three-metre high grass had been cleared and replaced by acres of rice fields. Farm buildings had been built. A new milling machine could produce 12 tonnes a day, officials confidently predicted standing in front of sacks of rice piled high in the warehouse.
Not for the first time, a lucrative opportunity linked to serial entrepreneur and now detained British fugitive Renwick Robert Haddow was not all that it seemed to be.
By the time Britain’s financial services regulator took action over “false and misleading statements” by the scheme’s promoters, the operation had taken £8.1 million from more than 1,000 investors.
They had not nearly trebled their money as suggested they would in the 2009 prospectus. In reality, they had paid for more land than the operation actually owned. “This is not a comfortable situation,” said High Court judge Nicholas Strauss QC. He ruled that it was an illegal investment operation.
The Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) went back to court last month to claw back some of the investors’ money from the entrepreneur and 15 other individuals and companies involved with the scheme.
One of the defendants - the estate of a director who killed himself by walking in front of a train while suffering from stress during the FCA inquiry – has settled and could have to pay up to £200,000.
Mr Haddow was not there. While lawyers were discussing him and his companies’ assets, he was being arrested on an Interpol warrant in Tangier, Morocco, for his role in the reputed $36m Bar Works scam.
The US authorities claim that the disqualified director in the UK had sought to hide his identity and connection to Bar Works, by using the alias ‘Jonathan Black’. Victims pointed out that the picture of Black, the CEO, seemed to have been copied from another person’s profile on the business networking site LinkedIn.
The alleged fraud involved dozens of high-pressure selling operations around the globe, including the UAE, with takings siphoned through dozens of countries.
“It appears it was all smoke and mirrors,” said a senior New York FBI official William F. Sweeney Jr in a statement in June as he revealed the charges.
Mr Haddow’s new Ukrainian wife, Zoia Kyselova – they were on honeymoon in 2016 at the height of the US investigation – played a role in the scam, according to a lawsuit filed by a group of Chinese investors.
References to Bar Works on what appears to be her Facebook page are limited to a single statement from the company referencing an “inexcusable breakdown in communications” with investors.
But her sporadic postings from the UK and the US does include a photo of Jordan Belfort, the boiler room operator and self-described “Wolf of Wall Street” played by Leonardo Di Caprio in the movie version of his life. He was speaking at an event in the UK in 2014.
“Our team did a great work to invite this legend to London,” she wrote. The theme of the evening was “the truth behind his success, basically his steps and rules to become a successful entrepreneur”.
After moving from London in 2014, the pair had been living in New York when US law enforcement announced it was pursuing him for alleged criminal activity. And about time too, said his alleged victims. It was not as if the authorities in his native Britain were unaware of past misdeeds.
Analysis of Mr Haddow’s previous business activity suggests that the operation in Sierra Leone followed a familiar pattern that went back a decade.
Renwick Robert Haddow, now 49, has been behind a series of eye-catching projects that initially attracted interest but were followed by unfulfilled promises and the loss to investors of millions of pounds. Publications that have highlighted problems with Haddow-related projects have been threatened with legal action.
The former accountant, who first appears in UK corporate records as a director of a small public house chain in 1998, launched a project with similarities to the Bar Works operation in 2001.
As finance director of Branded Leisure, he struck a deal with the publishers of Cosmopolitan magazine to launch a string of venues, that would combine bars, beauty treatments and coffee shops aimed at women aged 18-35.
Mr Haddow talked up the lucrative opportunities for the “Cosmopolitan Spirit” outlets. “These places will be crammed full of women, so they will naturally appeal to men,” he told The Sunday Times.
The deal struck with the publishers involved regularly opening new outlets – he had mooted 20 in two years. An assault on the United States was seen as the next step after winning over Britain.
In the event, they only opened one in Manchester, which failed to hit financial targets. Haddow’s company closed down shortly afterwards.
Shareholders lost all their money and the company left debts of £2 million. The saga eventually resulted in Haddow being banned as a director in 2008 for eight years after making misleading statements to investors about the state of the business, according to the official insolvency report.
While the beauty treatment and café plan was going to the wall, an unabashed Mr Haddow came up with another project to rebrand milk as ‘M’, a trendy bottled drink aimed at youth.
“We want ‘M’ to do for the milk industry what Perrier did for the water industry,” he was quoted as saying. He said he was seeking funding and suppliers for a drink he wanted to get on the shelves at major food outlets and health clubs. The plan never took off.
There were more. Documents show that a new company run by Mr Haddow invested in a glow-in-the-dark plastics project in 2003, a venture which failed and ended in acrimony and the UK courts.
Even while he was banned as a director, Mr Haddow re-emerged as a consultant, with a proposal to buy The Observer, the world’s oldest Sunday newspaper, and turn it into a weekly magazine and website.
“It is early days, but we are serious and keen to …. discuss options,” he was quoted as saying in London’s Evening Standard. Again, the plan never got off the ground.
The headline-grabbing projects were only a small part of his portfolio of interests. Mr Haddow was at the centre of a network of some 30 entities running investment schemes linked to commodities including gold, platinum, carbon credits and palm oil largely run from central London, according to an investigation by the World Policy Journal in 2015. Sales staff targeted retired people on “sucker lists” with high sales pressure techniques, it said.
“I was first made aware of Capital Alternatives when they contacted my mother, an Alzheimer’s patient, and I stepped in to ask them to leave her alone,” according to one anonymous victim cited in an unconnected US thinktank report. “Soon their calls were directed at me.”
The tactics were similar to those described by the FBI’s charges against Mr Haddow unsealed in June. One witness described brokers “badgering, harassing and shouting at prospective investors”. The proceeds from the operations were allegedly moved through a complex web of offshore companies and tax havens.
The journal claimed Mr Haddow became a well-known figure in Cyprus, a significant offshore banking centre popular with Russian oligarchs, according to the report citing documents and sources familiar with his operations. Authorities there have been forced to tighten up banking regulation because of a lack of scrutiny over dubious financial flows.
Mr Haddow promoted a hotel ownership scheme, with property in places including Prague, Slovenia and Marrakesh, Morocco. Investors bought a share of the hotel and shared in its profits, and allowed the investors to stay in the room for free at points during the year.
The company, Room To Invest went into liquidation, leaving debts and a string of unhappy investors. One was encouraged to transfer his investment into the Sierra Leone farm investment scheme, according to a report in Money Observer.
A person purporting to be Mr Haddow has denied the central accusations against him through the comments section of an activist website which has helped expose boiler room operations selling worthless carbon credits to unsuspecting customers. He claimed that that his operations had raised a “fraction” of the $180 million claimed by the article in Global Policy.
“According to that [journal] article $180m was raised, I have a share in a Cypriot football club, visited Cyprus numerous times and I have Russian connections... I have been to Cyprus only once and I don’t even like football,” he wrote.
Chris Lang, who runs the REDD-monitor website, said that he could not be sure that the writer was Mr Haddow but comments appear to have been posted from places including Turkey and New York, both places where Mr Haddow has connections.
Emails have also been sent by a person who identified himself as Renwick Haddow asking for posts about him to be removed, threatening legal action if they were not, he said.
Mr Lang said “there’s a tone that’s quite consistent in the comments that are left under the name of Renwick Haddow”. The tone is belligerent, unapologetic and damning of critics that he described as “cockroaches”.
His approach to those who claim to have been ripped off by Mr Haddow’s network is at best cavalier. He told one: “Unlike you I have better things to do than spend hours writing dribble…. I wish I had as much free time on my hands as you.”
In his comments, he has repeatedly taken issue with the description of his projects as “scams” and had never been prosecuted or charged with a criminal offence. He accepts that if the FCA won its legal battle, he could face criminal charges. The comment was written a week before he lost a 2015 High Court ruling over the legality of his investment schemes.
A ruling is expected later this year in the FCA case involving the farming project, and carbon credit schemes for Australia, the Amazon and Sierra Leone, which could result in him facing a significant financial bill. Even though Mr Haddow was disqualified as a director, the FCA has painted him as a central figure in project.
But Mr Haddow, currently in a prison near the Moroccan capital Rabat, is facing bigger difficulties as the US seeks to have him returned to his adopted home to face trial. If found guilty at trial he faces up to 40 years in prison.