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Seven charged over alleged £20m fraud

By The Cornishman  |  Posted: August 22, 2013

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SEVEN people have been charged in connection with an alleged £20 million fraud after the collapse of a Hayle-based currency exchange firm.

Crown Currency went bust in October 2010 owing millions of pounds to 11,000 customers across the country.

Five members of the same Cornish family and a Somerset councillor are to face court after a near three-year investigation by Devon and Cornwall Police into the failure of Crown Currency Exchange, Crown Holdings Ltd and Mayfair and Grant.

Police launched an investigation in November 2010 and made arrests the following month. Those charged on Thursday were founder, Peter Benstead; his children, Julian Benstead, Katey Calvimonte and Victoria O'Brien; and son-in-law, Roderick Schmidt.

Director Edward James, a former Conservative chairman of Mendip District Council and mayor of Glastonbury, was charged, along with company accountant, Stephen Matthews.

All have been released on bail.

They will appear at Westminster Magistrates' Court in London on September 17.

In a statement, Devon and Cornwall Police said: "Following a two-year and nine-month police investigation by the force's economic crime unit into the failure of three companies, namely, Crown Currency Exchange Ltd, Crown Holdings Ltd and Mayfair and Grant Ltd, the following seven persons have been charged." The full charges are:

Peter Benstead, 70, Penzance, fraudulent trading, money laundering, perverting the course of justice, theft, deception and false accounting Companies Act offences;

Edward James, 73, Glastonbury, fraudulent trading, false accounting and Companies Act offences;

Julian Benstead, 44, Penzance, fraudulent trading and theft;

Katey Calvimonte, 35, Penzance, deception and perverting the course of justice;

Roderick Schmidt, 44, Penzance, fraudulent accounting, perverting the course of justice, theft, false accounting and Companies Act offences;

Victoria O'Brien, 37, Welwyn, Hertfordshire, perverting the course of justice;

Stephen Matthews, 50, Penzance, fraudulent trading, theft, false accounting and Companies Act offences."

Crown Currency was one of the UK's largest foreign exchange firms, allowing customers to order foreign cash exchange in advance at a set price.

The firm employed 40 people at its Foundry Square office and had handled a reported £150 million worth of transactions. But according to an administrator's report, Crown Currency collapsed owing £16m with £3m in the bank.

The police investigation was later expanded to the collapse of a company called Mayfair and Grant, based in the same building in Hayle.

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