A convicted illegal money lender has been sentenced to prison and issued with the Financial Conduct Authority’s (FCA) first Serious Crime Prevention Order (SCPO).
Dharam Prakash Gopee, 64, has been sentenced to three and a half years in prison after guilty verdicts for offences under the Consumer Credit Act 1974 and the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.
Between 2012 and 2016, Gopee acted as an illegal lender despite being refused a consumer credit licence by the Office of Fair Trading, or securing any authorisation from the FCA.
The FCA said he loaned money to vulnerable consumers at high rates, securing the loans against their property, and then sought to take possession if they failed to pay.
In this four-year period, he issued around £1m of new loans and took in at least £2m in payments from old and new consumers, none of whom were aware he didn’t have a licence.
Gopee has also been issued with a SCPO, restricting his ability to carry out this crime in future. This is the first time the FCA has sought such an order which it said underlines the seriousness of his conduct.
The SCPO will begin on Gopee’s release from custody, and will last for five years. It includes conditions prohibiting him from conducting any business in the credit sphere, limits the number of bank facilities he is permitted to operate, and requires him to make disclosures of those banking facilities to the FCA.
Breaching the terms of the order is a criminal offence, punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment.
In sentencing Gopee, Judge Beddoe noted that Gopee was aware of the regulator’s serious concerns, but ignored them, deciding instead to “deliberately flout the law” ignoring the fact that he had lost his licence, and endeavouring to enforce agreements he knew were unenforceable but that debtors did not.
He continued to pressurise debtors with demands for payment, threatening court action that he knew could not be sustained.
Commenting on the defendant’s activities as a whole, the judge said Gopee’s business practices “exploited the weaknesses and vulnerabilities of many, many people” who were unaware that their trust in him was misplaced.
He described the new scheme constructed by Gopee as involving one contrivance after another in an attempt to get around the law, showing “a horrid pattern of exploitation”.
Gopee had already been banned from acting as a company director, having been disqualified on 5 May 2016 for the maximum period permissible, of 15 years, under the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986.
A number of his companies have already been wound up in the public interest following proceedings by the Official Receiver, and he has also been the subject of a restraint order obtained by the FCA on June 25 2015 under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
Following the lifting of a reporting restriction, the FCA is now able to report that it had to bring two sets of proceedings against Gopee for contempt of court in relation to repeated breaches of that restraint order.
In April 2016, having denied various breaches - including failing to disclose assets, continuing to deal with assets, opening and using new accounts - Gopee was found to be in contempt and imprisoned for 18 months.
He was released early by the court in September 2016 having promised to comply with the order. However, he went on to commit various additional breaches.
Further proceedings were therefore brought against him, and on this second occasion, having admitted the new breaches he was imprisoned for 15 months in October 2017, in the lead up to his criminal trial.
Gopee continues to serve his 15-month term of imprisonment for contempt, and his sentence for the recent offences will begin after that term has been completed in June 2018.
Proceedings have now begun to confiscate the proceeds of Gopee’s criminality.