Warrant issued for Letterkenny businessman
A Letterkenny-based French businessman suspected of operating a cross-border investment scam in which investors have lost heavily, has been ordered to prison.
Franois de Dietrich was not in the Chancery Court in Belfast last Friday for the hearing where Mr Justice Deeny ordered that he be jailed for 18 months for failing to comply with a series of court orders and therefore being in contempt of court.
Under the terms of an earlier injunction, de Dietrich had been ordered to reveal details of his worldwide assets.
The businessman's whereabouts are not known although he is thought to be outside the Northern and Southern jurisdiction. Injunctions are in place to prevent de Dietrich or his company, ETIC Solutions, from taking any further investments. He denies any wrongdoing.
Announcing the sentence and ordering an immediate bench warrant for his arrest, Mr Justice Deeny found that he had acted unlawfully and had deliberately been in contempt by failing to disclose his business affairs in full to the relevant authority, the Financial Services Authority (FSA).
"I am satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that this was a deliberate contempt on the part of the first defendant [de Dietrich] who is seeking to evade his obligation to obey an order of the court and indeed his statutory obligation to respond to legitimate requests for information from the Financial Services Authority," he said.
"There are very large sums of money involved. The current freezing order of the court exceeds 20 million [€23.23 million]."
The true total of the sums involved in the investment scheme was not known, the judge added, partly because of the failure of de Dietrich to disclose his business affairs.
"He has taken deposits from persons in the United Kingdom, and quite clearly a neighbouring jurisdiction, the Republic of Ireland, as well, when he had no licence to do so," he added.
The FSA had already obtained court orders freezing 6.8 million of de Dietrich's assets, a figure later increased to 20.2 million.
Its lawyers have argued that the defendant has to date only revealed details of his business operations in the UK, the Republic and Estonia.
De Dietrich's solicitor, Peter Madden, argued in court that the freezing of yet more of his client's money and the ordering of his imprisonment would further impede any attempt to repay money to the dozens of investors on both sides of the Border.
He later argued that he could not see how any committal order could help investors.
"If the FSA's stated obligation is to protect consumers, I don't see how consumers could be protected if Mr de Dietrich is committed to prison."
However, the judge said de Dietrich was guilty of more than one failure to disclose and the situation had lasted several months.
He did not record any finding of fraud, but did state that the failure to disclose information as requested by the FSA clearly reduced the chances of recovery of investors' cash.
Mr Madden said he would appeal.