“FCA’s investigation to determine if deals such as African Land are a collective investment scheme or not, is irrelevant. The bigger concern is if it might be a scam”

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African Land Ltd had a simple offer: Invest in “low-cost, high potential” farmland in Sierra Leone. “We Harvest – You Profit” was the headline of one of the company’s brochures.

But large numbers of investors are unhappy, including several who handed over their life savings to African Land. In July 2013, the Financial Conduct Authority started a legal case against African Land and their promoters, Capital Alternatives, and other companies. (The full list is available here.) The companies were accused of running a collective investment scheme, without FCA authorisation, and of providing false information and making misleading statements to investors.

In February 2014 in the High Court, Judge Nicolas Strauss QC ruled that African Land and Capital Alternatives were indeed operating a collective investment scheme. Some of the defendants saw their assets frozen and they were barred from promoting their schemes.

A new report by the Oakland Institute investigates African Land’s farmland project in Sierra Leone and reveals that African Land is currently looking to secure investments from new investors, in breach of court orders. Oakland Institute’s report can be downloaded here. African Land also continued to promote its investment scheme via africanland.net and its Facebook page, after the High Court ruling.

In 2009, African Land took out a 50-year lease on Yoni Farms, an area of 1,214 hectares of land in south-west Sierra Leone. The investment scheme was promoted by a company called GreenWorld (BVI). The initials “BVI” stand for British Virgin Islands, the tax haven where the company was registered. GreenWorld (BVI)’s website has disappeared, but here’s an archived copy of the company pushing an investment in teak plantations. GreenWorld (BVI) looks a lot like a boiler room operation, as does Capital Alternatives, which promoted African Land’s “investment” until March 2013.

Capital Alternatives also promoted “investments” in another related company, Capital Carbon Credits, which offered carbon credits, including from two REDD projects, one in Brazil and one in Sierra Leone. From its “investment” schemes, Capital Alternatives managed to raise about £17 million, according to a summary of the FCA court case by Intelligent Partnership.

Oakland Institute’s report includes the stories of some of the people who invested in African Land’s farmland project in Sierra Leone. (Comments from several other investors follow this March 2014 post on REDD-Monitor.) One investor is a health care professional in England who has worked for 37 years for the National Health Service. She was promised 15% annual returns. Two-years later she has received one payment amounting to approximately 1% of her total investment. “Once you buy into its schemes, there is no available exit, contrary to what African Land states in its brochure and sales pitch,” she told the Oakland Institute.

On the FCA legal case, she said,

“I am glad that the FCA is looking into this, but whether this is a collective investment [CSI] or not, is a small part of the story. It is pertinent that the FCA and courts look at other issues, as well. African Land had a lease for 3,000 acres, but I believe that 50% of the land I bought did not exist and of the 50% that may exist, African Land was forbidden by the terms of its original lease to sublet any of that land. I, therefore, legally had no land at all, after investing the resources meant for my retirement.”

As well as failing to provide investors with returns, African Land is not benefiting the local community in Sierra Leone. The Oakland Institute interviewed Paramount Chief Joseph T Kposowa III. He told them that,

“The local community is not getting any benefits from African Land Ltd farm. Few people were employed and now even that number has been reduced. There is no manager. Local employees have not been paid and have difficulty in getting their wages. No free rice has been distributed to the local villagers. African Land dont do anything for the community.”

Kristan Gander, a senior investment broker at Capital Alternatives, persuaded another investor to buy carbon credits from Brazil. The investor was promised a 100% return within two years and “an opportunity to save the planet”. He also invested in African Land’s Sierra Leone farmland project.

In 2012, he visited the Yoni Farm project area and found that much of the land was still scrubland. African Land employees told him there would be a rice harvest in 2012. He has still not received any money from his “investment”.

He told the Oakland Institute that he had “many unanswered questions, although the FCA court case answered some. For instance, African Land sold more land than it leased.”

Regarding the FCA’s court case, he said,

“FCA’s investigation to determine if deals such as African Land are a collective investment scheme or not, is irrelevant. The bigger concern is if it might be a scam.”

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13 Comments

  1. I thoroughly researched African Land Before investing. It turned out that Capital Alternatives were not very good brokers and African Land dismissed them. I consider African Land to be a reputable company (Winner of Best Alternative Investment Award) I consider this is a case of the FCA being too stringent. Any Monies recovered by the FCA would be much less than investor’s initial outlay. It would be far better if the FCA used some common sense and allowed the company to continue to operate thereby protecting investors interests( Isn’t this what the FCA should be concentrating on rather than following their own agenda)

  2. Clive Richardson

    Buyers beware!

  3. RedBaron is incorrect on some points. The court heard that the dispute between African Land and Capital Alternatives was over money. Capital Alternatives had sold more than 5,300 acres of land at Yoni Farm when the farm was only 3,000 acres in size. Instead of insisting that the money was returned, as a reputable company would do, African Land started legal proceedings to get a share of it. A large sum of money was paid over to African Land in settlement and the parties became friends again. Those 2,300 acre investors still do not have any land and they have not been refunded.
    RedBaron thinks that African Land is a reputable company. So let’s look at the report and the African Land claims. Notwithstanding the fact that African Land, along with their partners Capital Alternatives, has stolen millions of pounds by selling land that they do not have, there is the fact that the lease on the 3,000 acres that they do have forbids them from subletting any part of it, yet they sublet all of it, without the knowledge of the landowners or local authorities, and without legally registering those sub-leases. The document that they presented to the court, in an attempt to prove that they did have permission to sublet, was withdrawn when it was challenged as a forgery. No other document was produced so we have to assume that they did not have permission to sublet and are therefore guilty of conspiracy to defraud. Then there is the fact that investors were told that the land was worth more than £2,500 per acre and that they were getting a great deal by investing below market value, but the lease shows that African Land was only paying one bushel of rice per acre for the land which equates to about £5. A separate report by the Oaklands Institute confirms that land in Sierra Leone is priced around £5 per acre and sometimes less. Then there are the claims made by African Land about all of the humanitarian work it has done in the area, which the local chief says is baloney. They haven’t done anything for the communities. Then there are the letters sent to investors telling them about their two harvests per year and the fantastic returns. African Land was forced to admit in court that there has only ever been one harvest per year and many investors have still not received a penny from their investment. Then there is the 2-year money back guarantee that was very persuasive in getting people to invest and which African Land admitted to the court could never be paid. They had no funds to back up their guarantee. That in itself must be a crime in the UK. I think these are not the actions of a reputable company. There is supposed to be a second trial being brought against the defendants on the charge of making false and misleading statements to investors. I assume that it will follow on from their appeal.
    Finally, RedBaron is incorrect that the FCA is trying to close down African Land. The FCA is trying to find out where the money went because so little of it went to Yoni Farm. The estimate is that around 10% went to the farm. Far more than that was paid direct into the offshore accounts of some of the defendants. The FCA is trying to recover what they can for investors. If the farm had any chance of repaying investors then it is very possible that the FCA would allow it to continue in operation. I haven’t seen any directive from the FCA stating that they intend to close down the farm. I would like to think that they would allow the farm to continue if there is any chance it can be profitable, but not necessarily with the dishonest characters at African Land in charge. Maybe some investors would step forward to take control but the task is nigh on impossible.
    African Land would like investors to believe that the farm is profitable and it is the FCA that is causing the problems, but all the evidence points to the farm having been loss-making since the start. Payments made to a few friendly investors, who then give glowing testimonials, came from the pockets of other investors and not from rice profits. It was designed to keep the money from new investors coming in. If the farm was profitable then GMX Consulting, the vietnamese farm management company, would not have had its management contract suspended several months ago. The rice was harvested in October 2013 so there should have been plenty of money. If African Land is to be believed investors will get a 15% return per annum. If the average cost of an acre was £2,000 then that equates to £300 per acre per year to investors. Bearing in mind that this is supposed to be 40% of the profits then the profit on every acre is £750. None of the investors have been paid a penny from the October harvest and all of the 3,000 acres have been sold so the profit that should be sitting in African Land’s bank account is 3,000 x £750 which is £2.25 million. You would think that a company making that much money would be able to pay its management company.
    What the FCA have effectively done is to turn off the tap of new investor money going into African Land. They haven’t touched the farm at all or restricted its operation. The farm should be operating as normal.
    It is interesting that once new money stops flowing into African Land the management company’s contract is suspended and the local chief steps up to say that workers haven’t been paid. You wouldn’t expect that if the farm was making a profit.
    It looks as if African Land and Capital Alternatives have spent a little bit of investor’s money on establishing the pretence of a farm, whilst pocketing the vast majority of the funds. It has all the hallmarks of being a ponsi scheme.

    This reputable company was also the signatory on the forest leases for Capital Carbon Credits Ltd (Reforestation Projects Ltd) REDD project in Sierra Leone. An investor with family in Sierra Leone made enquiries which resulted in police interviews and statements taken from the forest owners. It turns out that those leases, which were signed by Robert McKendrick of African Land and which were supplied to investors in the UK, were also forgeries. The forest owners’ signatures were not genuine and their police statements confirm that they had never heard of African Land or Robert McKendrick.
    As for winning the award for ‘Best Alternative Investment’, an investor contacted the organisation and was told that no due diligence is done and this award generally goes to the highest bidder. Not very reassuring for the consumer.
    Finally, RedBaron contradicts himself by saying that recovered money will be a lot less than the money that has been invested. If he believes that the price he paid for the rice land was genuinely below market value, as is claimed by African Land, then the farm is worth much MORE than the money paid by investors, especially as land values have risen. Unfortunately African Land lied to investors. The reality is that the land was worth around £5 per acre. The 1,000 acres that were planted might now be worth £50 per acre because they have had work done on them. The 2,000 acres that are unplanted might be worth £10 per acre, and the 2,300 acres that don’t exist are worth nothing (obviously).

  4. Court Watcher,you seem to be well informed. I wonder where you are obtaining your information! I am a (generally) successful private investor with no link to African Land other than having invested. I carry out a process of due diligence before investing but obviously no system is perfect and sometimes fails (Could this be an instance?) In instances such as this action by the FCA, I do not have time to fully analyse every detail and have to make executive decisions (Usually 90% correct) Previous experience of the FCA (or FSO) as it was then makes me highly suspicious – reference Sustainable Agro Energy – wonder if you have any views on this company?

    I wonder if you have any links to the FCA? As a final footnote I find your final land valuations ridiculous – what are you basing these evaluations on?

  5. @RedBaron (#4) – The Serious Fraud Office froze the assets of Sustainable Agro Energy in February 2012. Here’s a post about the company from March 2014:

    How Sustainable AgroEnergy’s “green oil” investment in Cambodia fell apart

  6. I know a lot of investors in many of the Capital Alternatives projects and we had a representative in court who took notes throughout the hearing.
    Yes I do know about Sustainable Agro Energy. I visited their offices with a friend who was thinking of investing in their project and was ready to recommend it to his clients. I was perturbed by the rows of salesmen all selling by telephone. I met the head of the organisation, Gregg Fryett, and knew within a few minutes that something was not right. He told us about the plantation in Cambodia but couldn’t tell us exactly where it was. I told him that I had seen this project in the early days and it had been based in Thailand. He told me that there were lease issues so they dug up 3 million bushes and transported them all to Cambodia. It would be very difficult to transport 3 million bushes in the UK let alone across two countries that have very poor road systems, torrential rains and a shortage of large trucks. I knew he was lying and fortunately my friend did not invest.
    With regards to the valuations on land in Sierra Leone, there are reports by the Oakland Institute and the website of SLIEPA (the Sierra Leone investment site) which give an indication of prices.

  7. I am wondering why Redbaron insinuates that the FCA “interfering” will mean investors will not get as much money back as they put in. If it is true 2013 harvest hasn’t been paid out, there should be loads in the pot!?1

  8. Complicated situation: Simplistically,FCA do good work but follow their own agenda. If they determine that African Land was carrying out an illegal scheme then it is possible that African Land will be placed into administration. The management receiver will then wind up the company. This would result in a far lower value placed on the assets then investors paid.I would rather see the company continue to operate and hopefully start to pay investors.

  9. Yes Red Baron BUT only 10% of investors’ money went into the project. 90% went elsewhere.

  10. I fear RedBaron has not applied adequate due diligence in this case. I hope you have not invested!
    This company is not interested in paying investors. Given the information detailed in Oakland’s report, my opinion of this firm are backed up. African Land was a company set up to deliberately to fail. Large sums were paid to the sales company (CA), most of the rest of the investors money misteriously disappeared and no investor that I know was ever provided with information of where their money had gone with requests for information falling on deaf ears. An uncanny number of firms started by the individuals involved have liquidated and I fear African land, if left to it’s own devices, sadly is bound for the same demise and always has been. The investors then get no recompense, the company has it’s debts written off and they go and start again under another name.

  11. Not surprising that African Land Ltd’s annual return is now overdue. Watch this space……….the excuse is sure to be eboli!
    McKendrick’s sidekick and spokesman, Meadowcroft, has jumped ship – no surprise there either. As Lampshade says – AL’s demise is on the way, all as planned by the people behind it.

  12. Another point of note – African Land’s contact telephone number is a dead line.

  13. Norman Lott has now terminated his position as finance director of African Land Ltd. They are all getting out!

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