West-country pensioners in FX fraud trial following £20 million demise of firm

A quiet, peaceful retirement in the west country does not lie ahead for 72 year old Peter Benstead of Penzance, Cornwall, and 74 year old Edward James from Glastonbury, Somerset, as they stand accused of fraudulent trading and false accounting.

Today, after four years of legal wrangling, the surroundings that the two pensioners found themselves in are rather less rural than those to which they are accustomed, as they stood trial at Southwark Crown Court in Central London relating to the demise of their currency firm which failed in 2010, leaving behind debts of £20 million.

The company, which operared under the name of Crown Currency Exchange and was based in Hayle, Cornwall, went into administration in October 2010, however before its collapse, it had assets of £3 million, and was one of Britain’s largest personal currency exchange businesses.

As a result of its demise, 13,000 individuals are considered to have sustained losses, and Mr. Benstead faces three charges of fraudulent trading, two charges of false accounting, and four counts of theft from the company.

Additionally, Mr. Benstead is also accused of misappropriation, specifically converting criminal property in relation to a luxury private home in Penzance, Cornwall.

Mr. James is standing trial accused of two counts of fraudulent trading and two further counts of false accounting.

Back in November 2013, Mr. Benstead’s children, Julian Benstead, aged 44, Katey Calvimonte, aged 35, and Victoria O’Brien, 37, were arrested following a probe by Devon and Cornwall Police into the company’s collapse.

Mr. Benstead and Ms Calvimonte were at the time also charged with obtaining a money transfer by deception concerning a bogus mortgage application.

Crown Exchange and Crown Holdings company secretary Stephen Matthews Mr. Benstead’s son-in-law, senior manager Roderick Schmidt, were also charged with fraudulent trading and false accounting.

At the time of the company’s collapse, it had £20 million in debts, and only £3 million in assets, and Mr. Benstead was suspected by the law enforcement agencies of syphoning off £1 million from the company’s coffers illegally.

The company which the two individuals ran operated for six years in total, having been established in 2004, the ethos behind the firm being to allow retail and commercial customers to pre-order FX at a set price, up to one year in advance.

It provided 80 currencies, as well as direct FX services such as money transfers and a facility for those transferring large sums to buy property.

Of the estimated 13,000 customers which have sustained losses, the liability ranges from £100 to over £100,000 for some customers.

Prosecuting this morning, Judge Gledhill QC stated that this could be a “virtually paperless trail”. Each juror was provided with an iPad to display the documentation which is being examined as evidence by the prosecution, potentially causing the case to be a long, drawn out affair, likely to span across 11 weeks.

The hearings today were listed by Southwark Crown Court as follows:

Edward Norman James
Julian Benstead
Peter David Benstead
Roderick John Schmidt
Stephen John Matthews
Susan Margaret Benstead

For the official order of hearings, click here.

Photograph: The former head office of Crown Currency Exchange, in Hayle, Cornwall

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