Global Forestry Investments, teak plantations in Brazil and the unravelling of an unregulated investment scheme

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Global Forestry Investments claims to be an ethical investment company. But hundreds of investors are now asking where their money went.

Andrew Skeene and Omari Bowers registered the company, GFI Consultants Ltd., on 13 April 2010. They worked quickly. Just over two weeks later, they put out an invitation to an “Open Evening for a night of Champagne and Canapés”. Apparently, GFI already had clients:

You will be given a better insight into our phenomenal Teak projects in Brazil that are yielding our existing clients 10-20% per annum.

GFI bought a teak plantation in Pará province in Brazil, called the Belem Sky Plantation. A glossy brochure explains the deal:

Investors simply lease a plot on the timber plantation. The value of the investment and the return it will derive is based on the Teak trees growing on it. Specialist timber management companies lease the plots from the investors and manage the land.

The minimum investment is £5,000 and there is no maximum (which, when you think about it is interesting in itself, given that the area of the plantation is not infinite).

The land “will be held in beneficial ownership for the investor” by a company called Title Trustees International, a subsidiary of Hutchinson & Co. Trust Company Limited. Another of Hutchinson’s subsidiaries is Citadel Trustees. That’s the company that holds carbon credits that Worldwide Commodity Partners and several other companies scammed people into buying.

In the small print at the end of its brochure, GFI points out that the company and the investment is completely unregulated:

GFI Consultants Ltd is not regulated by the FSA and is not authorised to offer advice to the general public concerning any regulated or unregulated investment. This is not an authorised investment for the purpose of the UK FSMA (2000) and as such buyers have no access to statutory or regulatory protections including the Financial Ombudsman Service and the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.

As journalist Tony Hetherington pointed out in 2011, “The investment is unlicensed and unregulated. And that means it is also unsafe.”

Here are Bowers and Skeene explaining the investment scheme on Sky News.

Skeene manages to get the name of the company wrong. Bowers gets the area of Pará wrong. Then he says that, “The actually part that we are interested in is probably roughly about the size of the UK.” If true, that would be impressive. According to the International Tropical Timber Organisation, the total area of teak plantations in the world is about 6 million hectares. The area of the UK is nearly 23 million hectares.

But more interesting is the man in a baseball cap who is translating for GFI: of the . featured in a 2011 Dutch TV consumer programme about carbon credits, when he was selling plots of land in the Brazilian Amazon (at a price of one cent per square metre) for reforestation or for carbon trading projects. (Here’s a transcript of the programme: part 1 and part 2. If you’ve not seen it, it’s well worth a watch.)


UPDATE – 20 May 2014: contacted REDD-Monitor yesterday requesting that his name is removed from this website. I have done so.


The relationship between GFI and soured over the next few years. In October 2013, commented on a website set up by people who had invested in GFI:

“I simply do not agree with Skeene and Bowers. They owe my company money related to invoices for when we sold them the farm. All’s I hear is next week.”

A company called Emerald Knight sold the plots of the Belem Sky Plantation to retail investors. You can get an impression of the type of company Emerald Knight is from the “Careers” page on its website:

We have fantastic opportunities for telesales professionals who, in combination with our full and comprehensive training, have the drive and ambition to apply their knowledge and skills in growing their own investor portfolio through the promotion and selling of socially-responsible and sustainable investment opportunities over the telephone to a wide range of investors.

Surprise, surprise, carbon credits are among the other “Socially Responsible & Sustainable Investments” described on Emerald Knight’s website. And on its twitter account, Emerald Knight makes some pretty wild claims about the returns on carbon credits:

There’s a great deal more of this sort of thing (if you can face it) on Emerald Knight’s Facebook page.

Emerald Knight was the company that sold Industry RE’s carbon credits to retail investors. In June 2011, Industry RE had forward purchased the carbon credits from Celestial Green Ventures, who claimed to have the carbon rights to 20 million hectares of Amazon rainforest. In September 2013, Industry RE went into liquidation.

There are lots of frustrated investors out there. Here’s a typical comment:

I invested 5K in GFI in 2011. I was sold this by Emerald Knight and told it was an ethical investment, offering 8% return.
I received one years payment.
Since 2012 and 2013 no payments have been received.

In September 2013, GFI sent a newsletter to investors stating that

The Belem Sky Plantation investment has been extremely successful and as a direct result of this success as of earlier this year Global Forestry Investments have sold out of all the available retail plots and have now ceased sales.

GFI explained the delays in payments:

The delays in paying the annual income were a cumulate of various factors. Firstly the management companies experienced an unusually long rainy season followed by logistical and banking issues caused by a regulation in Brazil.

And GFI reassured investors that payments were “imminent”. In January 2014, in another newsletter, GFI explained that the “administrational complications” that had “played a part in causing the delays” were now “rectified”.

Meanwhile, in April 2013, HM Revenue and Customs issued a petition to wind up GFI Consultants. The company is still live. But hundreds of investors are still waiting to be paid.


UPDATE – 4 June 2014: A photograph of Bowers and Skeene and the company brochure have been removed from this post at the request of a representative of Bowers and Skeene.
 

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38 Comments

  1. I too am one of those ‘investors’ who got suckered in by EK and purchased both GFI plots and IRE carbon credits. The whole thing has been a nightmare and continues as one becomes involved with the insolvency system in this country. All these companies & their directors – Bowers, Skeane & Ian Hamilton are crooks who pray on vulnerable people just looking for a way of boosting their pension or hard earned savings. We will be lucky if we see any of our money back in 10 years time.

  2. I think that all these people need too be dealt with E.K Barclays that have done every transfer .Amazing that I need to be dishonest and then I am free to mug people.I really think that all these internet companies need to be dealt with…..Also mercury metals and bamboo,Dont invest in green products until you have spoken to us

  3. Thank you fro bringing more awareness to this investment scam. You may be interested to know that we are in contact with over 300 investors in this scheme who are all still awaiting their money.Many are in legal battles. GFI found many of their clients from their previous scam GFXI. Please view my blog here for more info:http://mypropertymentor.co.uk/2014/02/scam-alert-belem-sky-gfxi-forex-omari-bowers-and-andrew-skeene/

  4. The whole GFI Pension Scam is set up to defraud people out of there hard earn money. From the IFA’S that brought it into our life’s, sorry that should of said introducer’s. As mine wants to be known how.No insurance or morals. 4 lot’s of people have taken money out of my Pension, the only one that wont see any of it is me.

    The legal firms that are chasing them, want you to put up £1,000’S up front to chase them. So the chain gets bigger.

    The worst thing I think is the IFA’s are the ones that brought it into our homes,cannot or do not want to see it’s a scam.

    When I asked my IFA about the contract, all he can say is that he was naive ????????. But he still took 5% from the pot. when the going rate is 1.8%.

    Hay ho that what friend’s do for you.

  5. We at are real estate consultants in Brazil. We sell soybean farms, tree plantations, cattle ranches, and other rural real estate properties in Brazil. During our nine years in business, we have helped numerous clients; foreigners and Brazilians to purchase farms and properties in Brazil. We pride ourselves on business ethics and follow through. We have helped our clients to save money and achieve their goals, by finding the best available rural properties and using our expert Brazilian negotiators to gain the best value price. One of our clients was Global Forestry Investment, and they did purchase a few teak plantations from our Brazilian land sellers. GFI has also failed to pay our invoices related to one sale in 2012, unfortunately in business many people avoid for as long as possible to pay their invoices.

    It´s correct that in 2011 a Dutch TV station with the symbol KVW did ask us if we could role-play the purchase of land in rural Brazil in order to show the low price per square meter. In the initial planning for this show, we stated that Brazilians never list large rural properties by the square meter, the seller’s typically have an asking price for the entire property, or it is listed based the price per hectare or per alqueire (One alquere is a local standard unit of measurement in Brazil that is equal to 4.84 hectares in the North of Brazil and 2.42 hectares in the Sao Paulo State (alqueire paulista)). KVW wanted to press forward with the role play at the “per meter” size of sale, despite my advisement, as they stated it would help demonstrate to their viewers the inexpensive price of land. During ’s nine years in this market, we have helped many Brazilians and Foreigners successfully purchase land in Brazil. In this period, we have never sold rural land in plots by the square meter, we have no clients that have ever bought land by the meter, and in general it is extremely uncommon measurement to offer for large properties. The only time it was advertised by to be sold by the meter was specifically at the request of producers of the Dutch TV station, for role-play done for the KVW program. It´s important to mention that the interview was scripted by KVW, and many retakes were made so that the video had all the elements, edge, sensationalism and information in accordance with the request of KVW.

    Based on “Informa Economics – FNP”, the leading independent Research Company for Real Estate Land Price comparable in Brazil. In 2011, FNP publication listed the lowest price of land at US$ 51.00 dollars per hectare. The example piece of land for the Dutch TV station KVW was 43 hectares. There are 10,000 square meters in one hectare. So based on FNP, the price for the land was actually less than the price KVW was trying to portray for the role-play. KVW did not actually purchase any land, as they had no intention for it, their goal was just the filming for their TV Program. KVW attempted to show that the price of land was too low to be realistic, though FNP shows the accurate comparable.

    During the KVW role play, the focus and previous agreed subject of the interview changed from “the purchase of rural land in Brazil” to “preservation of Amazon Forest”. KVW tried their best to portray our company in a specific way. They tried to discredit the preservation projects we have since completed. We are proud at to state that we have placed over 600,000 acres of private property into conservation easements. This is a huge achievement that is good for Brazil, good for Europe, and good for the world.

    I invite, KVW to come back down to Brazil and we can show the reality of our Company´s attitudes, and do an interview that is not scripted and to show that their first report was not accurate. We will be happy to accompany KVW in a new visit to Brazil, to show that the rural real estate market in Brazil is a very robust and active market as well as to tour some of the private forest properties that were placed into conservation easement.

    -

  6. I have been involved with Andrew Skeene and Omari Bowers since March 2009 – First with property fund investment in Dubai, then Forex.

    They have been promising to pay my monies since September 2010 and despite letters from their solicitors still have not paid a settlement figure agreed.

    They open and close companies, move offices, change phones so often it is very likely they will skip the country.

    Along with James Lau, who I introduced to them and who subsequently went behind my back first opportunity he got and they work together as that is the type of people they are!!

  7. So, Mr , why are you not paying investors?

  8. Dear John and Chris Lang,

    To clarify, Mr. was simply the real estate agent that sold us three teak plantation properties out of eleven teak plantations that were purchased in Brazil. He was very professional in his sales approach and was a very transparent real estate agent. We are thankful that we had him, because some of the other real estate agents in Brazil, that we bought our other farms from were very problematic and caused many issues for us.
    We don’t feel that this REDD-Monitor website does justice, as he is an asset on the ground in rural Brazil that foreigners look to for help and assistance in the purchase of land. He knows the system very well, and this makes him one of the best in Brazil. This website defames him unfairly as he is one of the only people who runs a 1st class operation for rural real estate. This website scares people away from ’s services and pushes those same land buyers into the hands of unscrupulous local real estate agents and attorneys.
    Purchasing the teak plantations with as the real estate agent allowed us to know him on the personal level. We learned his story, how he as an American he left a field in engineering to become a real estate agent in Brazil. What we learned, was that in 2005 he bought a retirement property along the beach in Brazil. The local real estate agent and his attorney pushed up the price and his attorney registered his retirement property in her name. He lost everything he had. With this, he realized that the market had a niche for an honest, professional real estate company with a technical background to help navigate the Brazilian bureaucracy. He learned everything about Brazil, from the legal system, and the rural real estate market. He used his knowledge to get his retirement property back. He now helps mostly foreigners buy land and set up projects and is the best source and contact on the ground.

    To your question on why he did not pay you returns? The answer is he has nothing to do with the internal operations or management of the plantations.
    Your question would be no different than you buying a house and stating? I bought a house, is the estate agent going to pay my taxes and pay my utility bills; the answer is of course not.

    Andrew Skeene

  9. Maybe the estate agent is as honest and guilt free as you say, if so, then why does he not defend himself, surely he does not need you to defend him.
    And, “Andrew,”(if this indeed a comment from you) while we are at it, where is our money that has been promised for over two years? Oh yeah, and why are your lawyers so aggressive at shutting down any negativity on the internet? Why are you being investigated by the Serious Fraud Squad? Why are you attempting bankruptcy in the UK?
    Planning to move to Dubai and start again with a whole new Ponzi scheme by any chance?
    Here’s a thought, why not pay back the £11m+ that you owe current investors and stop pretending to be ethical.

  10. Please would Bowers and Skeene not try to play the aggrieved party. We are a group of 268 “investors” in the Bowers and Skeene GFI teak forestry scam. We have been deliberately and brazenly defrauded. We were promised a return of our capital outlay after three years – ha ha – the joke is on us and Bowers and Skeene have laughed as they have salted away overseas our life savings.
    They’re just loving it.

  11. I too have been a victim of this elaborate fraud perpetrated by these liars. For a while, when I had enlisted the services of a journalist from the BBC London News interested in investigating this, it looked as if I may get my returns, however my contact there was promoted and is now in a different department so I had to let it go. Until then I received numerous erroneous emails proposing payments which would arrive on certain dates…which of course they did not.. They both have degrees in lying and do so with impunity, devoid of social conscience and ethics. They are totally amoral and use their intellect to relieve unsuspecting investors…often retirees, of their hard earned money.They are the lowest of the low and I know in time they will get what they deserve, meanwhile my husband has ill health and I am unable to pursue this any more.

  12. I too am owed money from the Bowers and Skeene scam, otherwise known as GFI. I am a pensioner with no means of replacing the money they have cheated me out of.

  13. I too am a victim of this scam and owed money from GFI. I can’t afford to pay £1000’s in legal fees to pursue this and would be grateful for input from any other investors on any other options/best way forward for us. I tried to sell my investment and was willing to cut my losses regarding the outstanding returns but that didn’t materialise either. I seriously fear my investment and pension is lost to these crooks.

  14. Dear Sir,

    I will defend myself. The fact is, you ask why does an unrelated real estate consultant get pulled into a news story for the fact he sold some farms to GFI years ago?

    I have nothing to do with GFI besides I have sold them some properties. This website REDD-Monitor is nothing less than a “black list website” it is Chris Lang’s attempt to black list people he deems as a threat to mother nature. Oddly since I have placed 700,000 into conservation easement, he still wants to state my efforts to save the planet are worth harming.

    Chris Lang is no less than trying to be the Judge, Jury and Executioner to peoples reputations.

  15. As we predicted months ago, there is now a bankruptcy hearing scheduled for July 29th at the court in Croydon for Andrew Skeene and Omari Bowers. David Hines on 01302 572701 are the insolvency practitioners appointed from Absolute Recovery Ltd in Doncaster, South Yorkshire.

  16. it looks as though my partner and I have been scammed, 2 1/2 yrs ago we put our withdrawal forms in. We were told that our introducer was regulated, turns out he came out of regulation. I did not even know that Bowers and Skeene had control of my money I thought it was my introducer James Lau, he never mentioned Bowers and Skeene to me. Basically, I put what would be my pension money into this scheme and so did my partner, we are now very worried and in fact we now have relationship problems due to Bowers and Skeene not honouring their agreement with us. They seem very convincing that they are genuine guys who intend to pay us our money, we have realised they HAVE NO INTENTION OF PAYING US OUR RETIREMENT MONEY! we are very worried and unhappy, thanks to those 2 liars our future looks dismal.

  17. Hi

    I have also been scammed by these lot. While Andrew Skeene and Omari Bowers are the guilty ones, just how guilty is James Lau in all this? When I joined, James Lau told me he has full view of the bank accounts and has some control. So what has happened? One of James Lau Companies, and he has a number of them, in which payments were being made back to investors, BB Blue Sky, has recently had 7 million pounds of assets. Are these our funds? I wonder.

  18. A friend pointed this out to me. I worked for Andrew and Omari in November 2013 as an administrator for ‘Lannister Consultants’… I can also tell you they employ staff under false pretences, string them along for contracts until they declare you are meant to be self-employed (no mention of this for WEEKS). When I left in January before they closed their doors I was owed over £1000 in wages. My new employers (a reputable wealth management & FSA regulated company) had to threaten legal action for me to get my monies owed. Absolute cowboys and I hope you all get your money back. I had to wait outside the offices for weeks to get mine!

  19. I am another £5k investor apparently duped into this scheme. I did received a 6 month pro-rata payment in year one of around £250 and that is it. Very similar story to the other investors.

  20. This same scheme is now being done by a company called Green investment solutions (ran by the former directors of Oxigen Investments) exactly the same concept and I would not be surprised if it is also in connection with bowers and Skeene. Be very careful as these guys all know each other and run the same schemes. GIS.. GFI.. all the same….

  21. Thanks for the information Joao.Oxigen Investments was dissolved this year in February according to company records.Interesting that they all seem to be winding up shop around the same time.You are right, here Guy Conroy ex of Oxigen Investments with his new investment that looks exactly like the old one. http://greenis.co.uk/pages/gis-team.html

  22. Article about GFI in the Sunday Times (behind a paywall):

    Small investors lose millions in ‘ethical’ forest

    FAMILIES and pensioners who were encouraged to invest in “ethical” tree plantations in the Amazon rainforest have lost millions of pounds in a scheme being examined by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO).

    Two entrepreneurs, Omari Bowers, 37, and Andrew Skeene, 36, claimed that investors could expect returns of about 10% a year from growing teak in the rainforests. They said teak had proved a better investment than gold, property and shares.

    The business partners, both from London, impressed their clients with their commitment to regenerating deforested land in Brazil but investors are now pursuing millions of pounds that have been lost in the Global Forestry Investment scheme.

    Skeene and Bowers declined last week to provide detailed information about the scheme to The Sunday Times. But investors have investigated the men’s backgrounds and published warnings on the internet about their alleged activities.

    They are now trying to trace the men’s assets…

  23. Thanks for pointing to the Times article which many investors helped with including myself. It is likely that a follow up article will be written in the near future with more detail. Meanwhile, I have published a new blog today with further info not in the article:http://mypropertymentor.co.uk/2014/07/sunday-times-covers-bowers-skeene-ethical-forestry-scheme/

  24. I was conned by these guys too. My IFA, Simon goody, introduced me and said that although they weren’t FSA regulated, he had tested taking money out with no problems and was invested himself. When I couldn’t ‘t get my money out, he tried to put me off going to the police and wait longer.

    I later found out he wasn’t invested when I saw the list of creditors. So he acted dishonestly too.

    Raj Shastri was also involved and said he invested but hadn’t. I guess these guys just took a cut and screwed people.

  25. Hello Tim
    Could you please tell me how I can access the list of creditors? I’d like to make sure my name is on this list. I have reported my investment to the SFO but I don’t know who I’d need to contact to advise that I am a creditor as I’ve only recently become aware of insolvency and bankruptcy hearings.
    Thank you
    Regards
    Janice Baird

  26. I feel very sorry for all the people here who have appear to have been scammed from the start by these people through each of their nefarious investment schemes.

    As someone who legitimately manages forestry and other ethical investment projects it amazes me that people seem so keen to throw money at forestry projects in Countries so far away that they will never be able to justify the costs of physically monitoring them and into very of often hardwood trees. These things take decades to grow and produce a return via lumber. Yet people are being told “and believing” they will get returns in 4, 5 6 years.

    I have looked at most hardwood investments globally from a managed investment perspective. Especially, fast growing types like Melina and Eucalyptus. They didn’t add up for us as plantation specialists, so they would never be something we would develop or acquire for ourselves or clients. Like all softwood investments (Think 30 years for minimum returns here) You would need patience beyond your life to get the capital growth stated unless buying mature forest within a decade of due felling. But since the seller in this case has had the patience to plant and wait, he will gain the bulk of lifetime returns, through the price you as purchaser will pay. Anything over 9% IRR for you will be excellent, but you will have management and harvesting costs and inevitably withholding taxes will be applied in most of these countries and that can be up to 16% in South America and Asia, where most of these dubious investments are declared to be based.

    Forestry can be lucrative, but usually it is bought in large scalable quantities (50 hectare +) by wealthy family offices and HNW individuals seeking to deliver generational value and asset growth. Also, be aware of the claim that wood is a diversification. Up to a point it can be but, most is sold for construction and this is always the sector of the economy that gets hammered first in any recession – hardly non-correlated. For those of you driven by the green investing bug, much timber and certainly the fast growing stuff has little carbon sink value and will likely end up in one of the most environmentally suspect industries wood pulp, that continues to fail to clean up it’s by-product/effluent practices.

    HMRC provides that income, capital gains, corporate and inheritance tax are free on commercial forestry in European located forestry. What’s more you can easily have it checked out or check out yourself via a Ryanair £30 flight. If you want to invest in forestry look for European based projects. If they have an additional crop, say something that grows on the trees or a forest project with touristic incomes. But accept that these things are about investing for the long term. Think get rich slow..not rich. The only people getting rich quick in these schemes are usually the people offering them.

  27. @Martin Waddell (#30) – European Plantation Investments, the company linked from your comment, is listed at Companies House as being dissolved:

  28. Anyone who is considering to invest through a company called “Investment Alternatives Ltd” (Company no. SC370896) should think twice. They have been selling a teak investment that’s virtually identical to GFI’s Belem Sky Plantation (in every terms you can imagine), and both director/owner of this company (Alex Webster, John Fraser) both worked for GFI before starting this company.

  29. Hi Chris

    Yes the UK company was dissolved as we found it impossible to gain financial regulation through AIFMD two years ago, as the void of the FSA/FCA change was happening. In effect, we would have needed to risk spending as much as £90k+ without any guarantee of receiving regulation for our Black Diamond Fund. Consequently, we dissolved the UK company and created a Malta Fund for HNW European based investors.

    I did not “link” a company from my comment, I simply used my email address – which you state will “not be published”, but in effect that is what you have done.

  30. Just to put a human prospective on all this my investment of £5,000 with GFI seems to have also gone bad, I’m a pensioner with a heart condition and recently diagnosed with a serious aortic aneurism ,I took the investment out with some money my late father left me to give my son some pocket money as an adult student whilst taking his biology degree and bioinformatics masters degree at university fortunately he passed both! now all ask for is that my wife as at least has enough money to bury me with! but I doubt even these two scammers would be decent enough to respect that. I’m a great believer in karma and sincerely hope B & S see sense and pay investors their just dues !

  31. Being told now that our money never reached Brazil and was instead syphoned away by GFI into overseas accounts. Yet if I went into ASDA and walked out with a loaf of bread without paying my feet wouldn’t touch the ground! Just one thought, Title Trustees International are still holding the leases for investors(on ground not managed since 2011 apparently)is there nothing can be done with those?

  32. Unfortunately I too was encouraged to invest in the teak project by my financial advisor, who has since died. I thought that it was odd when I started to get emails asking for my bank details, obviously I did not give them. I feel very disappointed and annoyed that I invested but it was based on specialist advice.

  33. Hello Tim
    Could you please tell me how I can access the list of creditors too?
    Thanks

  34. I’m so saddened about this whole situation. I have been saving for years to send my son to university this investment was his opportunity. What happens now?

  35. You stole from me. My son can now not attend university. The money that I invested with you was intended to., Pay for my sons first year at university.

    Shame on you …, I worked 12 hour shifts ,five days a week, to enable the truth.

    Shame on you,,

    Sandy

    I’m

  36. @Sandy rowley – I’m sorry to hear about this. Have you contacted Action Fraud? (0300 123 2040 or via the website.) I wrote a post a year ago with some suggestions for what you can do if you’ve been scammed (although it’s about carbon credit investments, the suggestions apply for any investment):

    What to do if you’ve been scammed into buying carbon credits as an investment

  37. I was introduced to gfi by an ifa. Got all the letters about payment schedule & excuses about poor weather in brazil & title trustees intl on the case. nothing happening for ages i feel sick to the stomach & dont know what to do or how to get my money back

  38. Should say your IFA sold you down the river same as mine. My ex IFA is not one bit bothered, what they sold was with intent to defraud as it was only a boiler room scam set up to rob people of they pensions . Of a matter of course they will still be taking management fee for they pleasure .

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