In an oddly familiar echo of Bernie Madoff's massive ponzi collapse, The Telegraph reports, a currency trader has vanished along with £130 million in investors’ cash in an alleged fraud that could be one of the biggest in recent British history. Joe Lewis, 59, is being investigated by police over almost $200 million which he claimed was in clients’ accounts (incluidng professional footballers and golfers) but now no longer exists. In a stunning email sent to clients 2 weeks ago, Lewis admitted that his company - JL Trading - had stopped operating in 2009 (after suffering heavy losses on disastrous FX trades), adding that "I have covered up my mistakes from everyone including my staff, no one else knew what was happening." The father of two has since failed to answer emails and phone calls, and at his Istanbul apartment a doorman said he had not been seen for a few weeks.
In an email sent a month earlier – in response to growing concern from investors trying to get their money out – he claimed that his company was having “a stressful time” releasing $197 million (£126 million) from American brokers because of US red tape.
Mr Lewis admitted that his company, JL Trading, had stopped operating in 2009 after suffering heavy losses on disastrous foreign exchange deals.
He confessed in the email that he had continued taking people’s money for the next five years in an attempt to turn his fortunes around, but that all those attempts had failed.
Whatever the truth, the reality for investors – many of them British – is that they have each lost a small fortune.
A civil action to freeze his accounts and seize any assets has also been started. The businessman, who traded from a smart residential address in Istanbul with views over the Bosporus, is understood to have left Turkey some weeks ago. His adult son said he had no idea where his father was. One report suggested he had briefly visited relations near Hull and may now be in the Far East.
In the email sent on Dec 3, Mr Lewis wrote:
I am writing to inform you that JL Trading is ceasing to carry on business. Contrary to the impression that I have hitherto given, the business has lost almost all of its assets, and there appears no prospect of those assets being recouped.
JL Trading ceased foreign exchange trading in 2009 following substantial losses and since that time the business has suffered further losses, which I have tried to make good through investments in a number of commercial projects. However, it is now clear that the business will not be able to recover its losses and must cease trading. This means that, contrary to what was reported to you previously, you cannot expect any payments in the future.
I can only apologise unreservedly for any losses or unfulfilled expectations of profit. I have tried to recover the position for a considerable period of time, but it is now clear that I will be unable to do so. I sincerely regret that I have not been able to do better on your behalf."
On Sept 10 this year, Mr Lewis sent an email to clients that explained that he was “not able to give an exact date when we can send monies out” due to ongoing problems with American regulators. Lawyers, he said, were working on it and “they have everything in hand”.
On Nov 14, Mr Lewis sent another email. “We are going through a stressful time having our funds returned from our brokers; this has led to many doubts and concerns about the security of funds being held,” he wrote.
His business was being wound up, but investors would all get their money back, he said. “So you can realise the extent of our business, our current values are: Due to clients, $197,000,000 in 893 accounts, worldwide. Due from Broker, $260,000,000 in 1 account, US,” he wrote, adding: “As we are no longer trading, these amounts should not change.”
Then came the email of Dec 3, in which he admitted he had not traded currency for five years.
Two days later, Mr Lewis sent out another email – the last anyone has received – changing his story again and in which he blamed the previous email on his legal team. “You have been sent an update this week which was worded by my lawyers, but I wanted everyone to know, I am not running away from things,” he wrote, “Whilst I regret some of the things I have done, I will do my best to remedy this situation.
“Please note, I have covered up my mistakes from everyone including my staff, no one else knew what was happening.”
Mr Lewis’s son James said: “He [Joe Lewis] didn’t live extravagantly. I don’t know where the money’s gone. I am happy to share information with the legal entities.
“Everything he had is ruined. There are no assets at all that I am aware of.”
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