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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Exential background: No end in sight yet for victims of a scheme that conned hundreds in Dubai

Promises of returns of 120 per cent quickly evaporated leaving Emirates cabin crew and church-goers penniless

The sentencing of Sydney Lemos and Ryan Fernandez will bring some comfort to the hundreds of people who invested their savings and the proceeds of bank loans with Exential Group, and what turned out to be a Ponzi scheme.

The Dubai foreign exchange trading scheme seemed like a shoo-in investment, promising annual returns of up to 120 per cent. For a US$25,000 (Dh91,825) deposit, an account could be opened with the money invested in foreign currency, and traded when markets fluctuated using a complicated computer algorithm.

The reality was a scheme that paid out profits from new investor’s money, and in July 2016, the Department of Economic Development ordered them to cease trading while they investigated complaints by clients that due payments had dried up.

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MAIN STORY: 500 years in jail for Dubai agents who scammed hundreds

EDITORIAL: A 500-year sentence shows fraud will be met with the iron fist of justice

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Groups of Filipino churchgoers, Emirates cabin crew and many others looking to build a nest egg for their futures found their money tied up in accounts they couldn’t access in offshore banking systems.

Prior to the sentencing, lawyers working on their behalf insisted the case was rapidly moving forward, and once assets had been locked down and a court judgement issued, specialist firms appointed to find the investments could soon recover the cash.

Last year, a Dubai court ordered that the rogue financial company repay Dh1 million to one of its victims, a Filipino cabin crew member, in what lawyers called a land-mark decision.

“Exential tried to baffle their clients with jargon to make it difficult for them,” said Barney Almazar, head of legal aid at the Philippine embassy.

“They claimed they were not the ones who invested the funds but they were the ones who had been given the cash so were equally liable for the losses.”

“Most of the investors borrowed a lot of money so they did not have the cash to fund a trial, and a local lawyer is very expensive,” Mr Almazar said.

One church group had more than 90 parishioners who together invested more than Dh6m.

Those on the trail of assets hidden around the world claimed chief executive Sydney Lemos, from Goa, India, was a fall guy, taking the hit for bigger players behind the scenes.

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