Thursday, 8 December 2011

On the run, U.S. financier finds Spanish refuge


He's wanted for contempt of court in Arizona. He is under investigation by Italian police over his connection with an international bond scandal exposed by Reuters in August and totalling at least $500 million (320 million pounds). And he is named as a key player in one of the first criminal indictments following the collapse of Iceland's economy. But last week you could find David Spargo in a holiday resort on the Spanish island of Majorca. He's a regular at La Batucada cocktail bar, where he might be drinking anything from a cocktail to a beer or whisky. Locals say he also enjoys playing on the 95-euro-a-round (81 pound) Alcanada golf course, which overlooks the sparkling Mediterranean. Since he arrived in Majorca early this year he has even tried to issue more bonds, one source told Reuters. Spargo's case shows how tough it is for regulators and law enforcement agencies to track and punish alleged financial crimes across borders. Networks of 'shell companies' -- paper-only firms with few real operations -- make it hard enough to identify suspects. Even if regulators can identify them, they are often hard to bring to justice. Spargo may be of interest to officials in at least four jurisdictions around the world but police and civil guard officials on Majorca said they were unaware of the fraud investigation. The 44-year old American is sought by U.S. Marshals for failing to repay $5.5 million to investors in Texas and Virginia who had bought bonds issued by his company. But because the charges against him are civil ones, the United States is not able to extradite him and the U.S. embassy in Madrid says they are not aware of Spargo's presence in Spain. Iceland and Britain (whose top financial services regulator recently called $500 million of bonds Spargo issued in 2008 a "fraudulent instrument") have also not tried to extradite him. A prosecutor in Italy declined to say whether authorities had tried to extradite anyone in connection with the case. "There are likely to be hundreds of suspected white-collar criminals who have moved to other countries and are now living off the proceeds from their alleged crimes," says Andrew Gordon, forensic services partner at accountants PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Police in the City of London say more and more criminals are trying to hide their operations in different countries, using myriad bank accounts to siphon off the profits. Spargo himself denies any fraud. "A lot of your information is extremely incorrect," he told a Reuters reporter from the balcony of his second-floor apartment on November 28. "You'll find out in the next three days."

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