Three FX fraudsters jailed for Crown Currency collapse, owner tops himself during trial

Cornwall is not a region within the United Kingdom synonymous with FX industry participants, however the notorious Crown Currency Exchange which collapsed with debts to customers of £20 million has maintained a high profile over recent months, largely due to the trial of its owners for operating a fraudulent FX scheme conducted not from within the financial heartlands of London, but from a Cornish village more associated with yokels than yards.

The legal investigation into the collapsed firm began earlier this year at Southwark Crown Court in London,  where it was alleged that certain key personnel fled to France with gold bars at the time of the company’s collapse.

A trial ensued, which lasted three months, during which time Peter Benstead, the company’s owner, killed himself and was found in a vehicle near his home in Penzance, Cornwall on May 3.

Mr. Benstead’s wife, Susan, was given a two year suspended jail term for money laundering, with the court discovering that she used £900,000 worth of customers money to buy a luxury home in Cornwall.

Mr. Benstead’s son, Julian who resides in Penzance, operated a subsidiary company of Crown Currency Exchange. That particular division of the company specialized in trading cash for gold. He has been jailed for two years for fraudulent trading.

Others sentenced included Crown Currency Exchange’s ex-accountant Stephen Matthews, 52, of St Newlyn, Cornwall, who was jailed for four years for false accounting. and manager Roderick Schmidt, 46, of Penzance, who was jailed for five years for fraudulent trading.

Julian Benstead has a previous record, having been cleared of theft of 25lb (11.3kg) of gold which went “missing” in the days leading up to the collapse of Crown Currency, a count on which his father was also charged. The gold has never been found.

According to the BBC, Judge Michael Gledhill QC said during sentencing that the evidence against Peter Benstead had been “overwhelming”.

He said Benstead’s suicide was “an easy way out of his predicament, without any regard to the consequences on either his loved ones or his victims”.

74 year old Arthur Hanbidge from Liverpool, who lost £2,200, called the suspended sentence against Susan Benstead a “disgrace”.

“I know she is grieving, but she lived the high life for years and should have been jailed as well,” he said. He called Julian Benstead’s sentence a “farce”.

“Some people have lost fortunes, two and a half years is not enough,” he said.

Devon and Cornwall Police said it would now pursue the confiscation of the criminal’s assets to compensate victims.

Former Crown director Edward James, the ex-mayor of Glastonbury in Somerset, was found not guilty of two counts of false accounting but convicted of two counts of fraudulent trading. He was not sentenced as he faces a re-trial.



Photograph courtesy of the BBC

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