The Exential office at the Arenco Tower in Media City, Dubai. Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: The Dubai Misdemeanours Court on Sunday sentenced two Indian men to 517 years in jail each for swindling thousands of victims in a multi-million-dollar fraud case.

Dr Mohammad Hanafi, presiding judge of the special bench, also sentenced the wife of one of the accused to 517 years in absentia.

She remains at large.

ALSO READ: Who is Sydney Lemos?

The accused — Exential owner Sydney Lemos, his wife Valany and Ryan D’Souza — were convicted in the 515 cases filed against them and as per the judgement were sentenced to one year in jail each in 513 cases and two years in jail for the remaining two cases.

It took presiding judge Dr Hanafi up to 10 minutes to read out the judgement in Courtroom No. 3, where many victims were present, in addition to the defence lawyer. 

Prosecutors had accused the defendants of swindling and deception and referred the case to the special panel on October 31.

The first hearing took place on December 25 last year and the trial concluded with the sentencing on Sunday.

The ruling remains subject to appeal.

A series of investigative reports by XPRESS, a sister publication of Gulf News, exposed the scam in 2016.

Exential disguised a Ponzi scheme as a legitimate foreign currency trading programme, offering up to 120 per cent annual returns on investments before their office was shut down by the Department of Economic Development (DED) of Dubai in July 2016.

Earlier reports said around 7,000 UAE residents lost their life’s savings in the scam.

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•  Unveiled: Anatomy of Exential's forex rip-off
•  Exential owner’s wife: You are at my jailed husband’s mercy 
•  Break-in at sealed Exential office in Dubai
•  Woman blames Exential for death of brother, 31

Recovery of funds

Meanwhile, a UAE lawyer representing a group of victims said the ruling may help recover some of his clients’ money.

Atty Barney Almazar, director of Gulf Law, is working with the Philippine Embassy to assist victims. He is the advocate of a number of Filipinos who invested in Exential. Many victims, including a group of 90 people, lost their retirement and life savings while others took loans to be able to invest.

“The court decision of more than 500 years’ imprisonment sends a very strong message to the public that Dubai is not taking financial crimes lightly,” Almazar told Gulf News.

“This judgement can be used to support the victims’ civil claims and efforts in locating the assets of the company. The decision will be acceptable in foreign jurisdictions. In any criminal act, the fruits of the crime will be forfeited. Of course, there is a process and this is not a guarantee,” Almazar said.

Reactions

Some victims, who spoke with Gulf News voiced some degree of satisfaction with the ruling.

“The news is overwhelming. Justice has been served. He [Exential chief Sydney Lemos] has to pay for what he did to us. The fact that he can no longer leave Dubai is well and good for us,” Gerry Sandique, 52, a technical consultant and one of the complainants against Lemos, said.

Sandique invested $50,000 (Dh183,500) from his savings and also took a personal loan with his wife in November 2015.

“What we want now is to recover our investments. There are people who have lost hope, but we still hope to get our money back,” he added.

Another investor, Yuri Cipriano, a safety engineer, said: “This is a good development for all of us, but our main concern is getting back our investments. We hope the court could help give us formal guidance on how to do this. We know people who have won cases in court against Lemos, but have not received anything till now.”

Cipriano had invested  $50,000 plus the income it had generated for a total of $60,000.

“This money was intended for our house project. I’ve always wanted to get my master’s degree but I can’t right now, my hands are tied,” he said.

Many victims also worked for Emirates airline.

An employee, who invested $125,000 in five accounts, said Exential owners did not just steal money, but also wrecked the lives of many investors.

“Many families and friendships were destroyed. Many lost hundreds of thousands of dirhams, some millions. It’s been two years since all this broke out and although we’re still hopeful, there’s no assurance from anyone that we will get our money back,” the 30-year-old investor said.

The employee also filed a civil case against Lemos and is awaiting the court decision.

“It pains me to say that in all of our hearings for the past year, not once did his lawyers appear. Just give what is due. All we want is what was promised to us that’s clearly stated in the contract.”

How the fraud played out

■ Exential Group took money from investors promising huge returns by investing the money in the foreign exchange market. In the beginning, investors were paid, but gradually the payments stopped. Investigations revealed that Exential owner Sydney Lemos transferred the money to Australia-based brokerage rm FC Prime owned by his wife Valany Lemos.

What is Exential?
It is the name of a corporate group of three companies called Exential Group that operated out of Dubai Media City until authorities sealed its offices in July 2016.

Progress of the case
Aer investors complained, the company’s operations were stopped in July 2016 and its top official arrested in Dubai – fiƒrst in late 2016 and again in early 2017. Recently, two main people involved in the case, including the top official, were sentenced to 517 years in prison in Dubai.

In numbers
• Dh1.1b is the value of the Ponzi scheme disguised as a forex trading programme 
• 7,000 UAE-based Exential investors were duped
• 120% Returns promised to investors on a minimum payment of $25,000