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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 11 December 2018

'James Bond' lifestyle led by head of Exential scam revealed by investigators

Assets worth more than $15 million have been tracked down, offering hope to hundreds of investors hoping to recoup their cash

Some of the investors and staff outside the closed office of Exential in Dubai Media City in 2016. Many investors have not received any cash back. Pawan Singh / The National
Some of the investors and staff outside the closed office of Exential in Dubai Media City in 2016. Many investors have not received any cash back. Pawan Singh / The National

Fast cars, motorbikes and expensive apartments are just some of the assets found in the name of Sydney Lemos, say financial experts investigating his failed Exential Ponzi scheme.

Property worth more than US$15 million (Dh55 million) has been located in a worldwide search by investigators looking to recoup money for those scammed by the group.

So far, chief executive Lemos is the only man arrested in connection with Exential, the Dubai investment scam that conned hundreds of people out of their life savings.

The foreign currency exchange fund promised 120 per cent returns on a $25,000 investment.

When payments dried up, emails circulated by Exential’s relationship managers blamed “banking issues”.

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Concern swiftly escalated towards panic as hundreds feared they would lose everything.

That fear became reality in July last year when Dubai’s Department of Economic Development ordered the closure of Exential offices in Arenco Tower, Dubai Media City, due to serious irregularities. By December, Lemos, 36, from Goa, India was arrested in Dubai and remains in police custody.

Financial investigators hired by Exential’s clients to recoup lost funds through legal means have scoured the globe, searching for assets in the name of Lemos, Exential, or its partner firms Tadawul MidEast, Ellipsys and FCI Markets.

UK legal firm Carlton Huxley is representing 61 people to try to recover their investments.

That process has seen private investigators, many with years of experience working for law enforcement in the UK, focus their efforts in Australia, the British Virgin Islands and India – where bank accounts and property in the names of those connected with the business is held.

“As far as the investigation into Exential and what went on, that is finished,” said Bill Ferguson, a lead fraud investigator with the firm.

“We are now in the process of putting together key documents, evidence and case analysis for the matter to be progressed by our lawyer.

Exential chief executive Sydney Lemos, who was arrested in Dubai in 2016.
Exential chief executive Sydney Lemos, who was arrested in Dubai in 2016.

“We are continuing to make good progress tracing assets and uncovering information on various people’s financial positions.

“Based on the information available, we are confident of the financial viability of the case and the location of the assets.

“We have established the money trail and identified bank accounts and jurisdictions where the money was moved which would satisfy the claim in damages for our clients.”

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Much of investigators’ attention has been trained on Goa, the home state of some of those involved.

Lemos is listed as an owner of FC Bardez, a football club in the region, and has many other assets in his name.

Investigators have made several trips to India, and uncovered a “James Bond” lifestyle, where Lemos seemingly peddled an international man of mystery persona.

Not only was the Arenco Tower office number 007 but investigators have found a number of cars in India tied to him with registration plates 007.

One of them was a customised BMW 3 Series and a motorbike both in gunmetal grey. In the original Ian Fleming James Bond books, the spy’s car was also gunmetal grey and Bond drove a grey BMW in later films.

They claim to have also found two apartments, a house and hotel accommodation in Goa in Lemos’ name.

In total, the property is worth about $4 million, and significant money has been located in bank accounts. Other property in Dubai includes Maserati and BMW cars, while cash held by Exential has been traced to accounts in Australia and Abu Dhabi.

“The total being sought by our clients is $15 million,” Mr Ferguson added.

“Based on property and accounts we have found, and what we have been told by former Exential employees and others, the sum we have located exceeds that figure.

“We have to get control of this [money] first and that is the process we are dealing with now.”

Eric, a Filipino who has lost $25,000, filed a case at Al Barsha police station against Exential in early 2016, just three months after investing.

He was directed to police by Dubai Courts and he submitted a complaint to the DED, at a cost of Dh2,000.

“Lots of friends who had been with Exential for three years or so encouraged me to put my money in,” he said.

“I was one of those who invested at the last minute, just before Exential collapsed, so I never received any payments.

“My account is showing it is in profit but I can’t get any of my money back.”

Investigators said there are 7,000 accounts showing a balance of $3,000 (Dh11,000) in each, a total of $21 million.

Eric, 35, who has been in Dubai for 12 years and works in the aviation industry, has given up on getting his money back.

“The money was a loan, which I’m still repaying every month. I’m building a house back home in the Philippines for my family. This money was to pay for the labour.”

Salik encouraged his brother-in-law to put $50,000 of his savings into the doomed scheme.

“He opened two accounts, just before the company changed its policy and said it would not be able to pay out profits,” he said.

“There was a woman on WhatsApp called Lavika who wouldn’t answer our calls but would answer messages to tell us what was going on.

“She kept saying not to worry and that the problems were being sorted out, then she just disappeared and stopped communicating.

“The sweat and blood has come from the investors, and most have nothing to show for it.”