Fraudster film producer, 56, faces jail after £150,000 theft

Fraudster film producer, 56, faces jail after £150,000 theft

Fraudster film producer, 56, faces jail after stealing more than £150,000 from her victims by claiming links to Denzel Washington, Dalai Lama and Princess Anne

  •  Lois Bhagwan, 56, enticed her victims with promises of high returns
  • She falsely used the names of several celebrities in an effort to sell her scheme
  • Victims thought they were investing in a world wide film and documentary  
  • She was found guilty of fraud following a five-week trial at Oxford Crown Court 

A fraudster film producer faces jail after stealing more than £150K from victims across the world – by claiming links with Princess Anne, Hillary Clinton, Denzel Washington, Gordon Brown and the Dalai Lama.

Lois Bhagwan, 56, enticed her victims with promises of high returns, investing in her charitable project’s high-interest fund.

But a tiny proportion – around £10,000 – of the money paid over has ever been returned – with many victims left empty handed.

Lois Bhagwan, 56, pictured on her marketing material, enticed her victims with promises of high returns, investing in her charitable project’s high-interest fund

She falsely claimed to have links to the likes of Princess Anne and several other celebrities 

She also falsely used Hillary Clinton’s name when trying to deceive her victims 

During her five-week trial at Oxford Crown Court, Bhagwan claimed links with heads of state, Royalty, ambassadors and Hollywood A-listers.

She has now been found guilty of seven counts of fraud. She was acquitted of three other charges.

Remanding her in custody, Judge Ian Pringle QC said: ‘You’ve been found guilty by this jury of seven serious charges of fraud by misrepresentation or the equivalent.

‘The sentence I am going to pass on you must be one of immediate imprisonment.

‘Quite how long that will be is for me to consider when I have heard your learned counsel next week.’

Welcoming the conviction, Det Insp Duncan Wynn of Thames Valley Police’s economic crime unit said: ‘I think it shows Lois Bhagwan was a serious criminal and that these offences warranted an appearance at Oxford Crown Court and subsequent conviction.’

Fijian-born film producer Bhagwan’s Lionheart Project was touted as a way of connecting people around the world to solve issues facing communities across the globe.

The scheme, which was launched at an event in the St Regis Hotel, Washington DC, in 2001 attended by former Amnesty International director Jack Healey, had its origins in the early 1990s.

The defendant hoped to create a film and associated TV series focusing on different communities around the world with people she branded ‘Lionhearts’.

Over time the ambition grew, with a worldwide network of ‘Lionhearts’ and plans for a global launch of the film together with interactive ‘experiences’ capable of connecting people virtually around the world.

Bhagwan set her sights high. In the early 1990s, she approached former international cricketer Imran Khan, now prime minister of Pakistan, who was then raising money for a hospital in Lahore.

Bhagwan was found guilty of seven counts of fraud at Oxford Crown Court. She was warned she was going to prison when she returns for sentencing 

He passed her on to his fundraising manager, Jacqueline Cowen. She told jurors: ‘She said she was making a film…It was to help raise funds for various charities in the world and Imran Khan’s was one of them.’

The defendant’s globetrotting lifestyle saw her visit Egypt and Israel in company with former Sunday Times photographer Bryan Wharton, who snapped her meeting soldiers and diplomats.

She claimed to be funding the Lionheart Project out of her own royalty income from films she’d produced and, later, through a multi-million pound high-interest fund.

Her victims – some of whom later set up a ‘defamatory’ website naming Ms Bhagwan and exposing the fraud – were told that their money would be placed with this fund, which during her trial she said had been registered in South Korea.

In total, her victims lost almost £160,000.

They included the ex-captain of the Fijian national rugby team, who lost almost £2,000 to the fraud.

Former Saracens star Mosese Raulini, 46, told the jury he was looking for investments as he neared retirement.

He was introduced to Lois Bhagwan by the Fijian High Commissioner to the UK, Pio Bosco Tikoisuva.

Mr Raulini described the defendant as ‘bubbly’ and said her project ‘looked pretty promising to me’.

He’d invested a total of £1,950 in two chunks in 2010 and she asked him to try and get other rugby players involved in the project. He told jurors via video link from Australia that she’d kept asking him to invest more money, but he wasn’t able to.

Bhagwan was said to have spoken of getting sponsorship for the Fijian national rugby side. She told him at one stage that she’d got hold of £12m and seemed ‘extremely excited about that’.

Mr Raulini left the UK in 2012 and had not seen a return on his investment.

Victim Wanda Arnold, who was persuaded into handing over £25,000 for two shares in the Lionheart Project plus a further £5,000 for a ‘short-term’ loan, described being in awe of the woman.

‘I thought she was a very nice lady, very enthusiastic. You got swept along with her. She was vivacious, she was very well connected and there were times I felt in awe of her,’ the Worcestershire woman told jurors.

‘She said she knew people like Condoleeza Rice, who was the [US] Secretary of State at the time, the High Commissioner of here, the High Commissioner of there.’

Mrs Arnold said she’d first met Bhagwan in December 2006 when she knocked on the door of their home in Tenbury Wells, Worcestershire, and asked for some mistletoe to take to friends on an estate in Scotland where she was spending Christmas.

The victim said of Bhagwan: ‘She said she was a film producer. She made or produced films and that she’d gone out with some film people like the guy who played Draco Malfoy in Harry Potter [Tom Felton].’

The con artist spoke to them about the Lionheart project and explained there were opportunities for the Arnolds, who ran a water treatment company.

Within six months she had persuaded them to buy two shares in the project, paying £12,500 for each share, promising high returns and no risk to the original capital.

Paperwork sent in 2008 and 2009 suggested they had made more than £8,300 in interest.

In emails read to the jury, Bhagwan described herself as the Arnold’s ‘sister’, addressed them as ‘bro’ and ‘sis’ and spoke of a special bond.

In March 2010, she sent an urgent plea to Mrs Arnold asking for her help to raise £30,000 for a short-term loan. The victim eventually handed over £5,000 – trying to hide the payment from her husband, by then suspicious. Bhagwan promised to return the cash with £500 interest.

By 2011, Bhagwan was no longer responding to calls or emails. The couple, who had not received any money, hired a private investigator to try and track the woman down. She did eventually get in contact, claiming to have been ill and promising to arrange payment.

The couple has still not been reimbursed by Bhagwan.

Other victims included Bhagwan’s former neighbours in the Cotswolds, the manager of a Highlands estate where she holidayed and an oil man she’d met in Egypt.

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