The SFO's Chief Investigator, Michael Gallagher, has stated that the agency is focused on tackling ‘green fraud’ and had signs of a rise in green fraud for some time.
In a recent interview with City AM and accompanying social media post, he described "climate fraud cases grow exponentially, now involving millions of pounds and spanning multiple jurisdictions".
In December 2014, the SFO launched an investigation into Solar Energy Savings Limited, a £17million fraudulent scheme to install solar panels, which defrauded 1,500 victims including elderly, retired and vulnerable people, with each losing between £10,000 and £20,000. In 2018, six men were found guilty of conspiracy to defraud by false representation. As well as lengthy prison sentences, confiscation orders were made depriving them of the benefit from their criminal conduct.
In June 2022, the investigation into Global Forestry Investments concluded with the convictions of Mr Bowers and Mr Skeen for their part in a fraudulent green investment scheme which deceived around 2,000 investors out of their savings and pensions.
Global Forestry Investments established three teak tree investment schemes in Brazil, known as Belem Sky Plantation, Para Sky Plantation and Para Grosso Sky Plantation. The schemes claimed they were secure, well-managed, ethical investments that would help protect the Amazon rainforest, support local communities and protect the planet.
Both Mr Bowers and Mr Skeene were sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment and made subject to a ten year director disqualification order. Confiscation proceedings are ongoing.
The SFO indicates it expects to see individuals and organizations attempting to take advantage of the growth in the sustainable-investment market by “manipulating consumer and investor behaviour through social conditioning”, offering false investment opportunities that are purportedly beneficial to the environment but, in reality, only benefit the fraudsters.
Green fraud not only takes savings from investors, but also erodes trust in climate progress and legitimate sustainable investments