DUBAI: The law has finally caught up with a globe-trotting fraudster who stole a football club, broke into a bank and, more recently, raked in millions of dollars in advertising revenue and barter deals by launching a magazine in Dubai and passing it off as the Middle East edition of the internationally renowned Financial Times.
Russell Stephen King, 60, was, however sentenced to six years in prison by a court in Jersey last week for another crime — laundering £671,000 from the now defunct Belgravia Financial Services Group, of which he was a shadow director in 2008.
Most of the money was hidden in a complex set of accounts in Switzerland.
King, who fled Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, between England and France more than a decade ago to seek shelter in Bahrain, appeared in court in a wheelchair as the verdict was announced, local paper Jersey Evening Post reported.
The crown prosecutor said he exploited his business partner’s death to “help himself to hundreds of thousands of pounds”.
“He was able to cynically exploit the death of the only person who in reality would have been able to challenge his conduct and stand up to him,” said the court.
King left only £64,000 in Belgravia bank accounts. When the company was liquidated, creditors could get just 4 pence for every £1 they were owed, said the prosecutor.
Russell King who was extradited from Bahrain to Jersey to face trial has a history of fraud.
FT Business Arabia scam
In February 2018, a Gulf News publication exposed how he misused the name of a leading publication to strike lucrative advertising and barter deals with several UAE-based luxury retail brands and top hospitality groups.
The scam was pulled off with such meticulous planning that businesses didn’t think twice before parting with huge amounts of money for the bogus Financial Times Arabia.
As it turned out, Financial Times had nothing do with the FT Business Arabia whose first and last issue was released in July 2017. “FT Business Arabia is not an FT publication and has never been authorised by the FT,” a spokesperson of Financial Times later clarified in an email statement from London.
Deals for FT Business Arabia were struck as add-ons in barter agreements between retailers and Gulf Digital, the publishers of Food and Travel Arabia, another Bahrain-based magazine helmed by King.
Staying in the shadows, King ran the Middle East edition of the well-known Food and Travel magazine for four years using various aliases and fabricated circulation statistics.
In March 2017, the magazine even went on to host the Food and Travel GCC Awards at a five-star hotel in Al Jadaf, Dubai.
Russel King’s wife attended the gala where she introduced herself as Francesca Jackson.
The unsuspecting hotel was so impressed by the sweet talking woman that it signed a barter agreement with Gulf Digital for deliverables worth nearly $80,000 (Dh293,000). The hotel bore all expenses of the awards night besides paying for several VIP rooms. For good measure, it was also conferred the ‘Best Destination Hotel’ and ‘Best Casual Chic Restaurant’ awards during a ceremony attended by top industry professionals.
Others that got similarly sucked into King’s elaborate web of deceit and signed deals in lieu of editorial coverage and advertisements included a high-end coffee brand (Dh128,000); the Middle East franchise of a Swiss luxury confectionery manufacturer (Dh60,000) a beach resort in Jumeirah (Dh58,000) and a local group (Dh91,500) which paid 25 per cent upfront as part of a $100,000 agreement
Who is Russell King?
As scam artists go, very few could measure up to to serial swindler Russell King.
Sentenced to two years in prison in 1991 for insurance fraud after trying to get £600,000 in theft claims for his Aston Martin that never left his garage, King pulled off a scam so big it earned him the sobriquet of ‘The Trillion Dollar Conman’ by BBC which featured him in its Panorama documentary.
In 2009, King founded a company called Swiss Commodity Holding, which claimed it had assets worth $2 trillion besides the rights to all the gold, iron ore and coal in North Korea.
The fraudster then engineered the takeover of British investment bank First London. By falsely claiming he was managing billions of dollars for the Bahraini royal family, he got the bank to turn over 49 per cent of its share to him.
The sweet-talker’s next step was to gain control of Notts County Football Club — where he lured former England coach Eriksson to be director of football with promises of shares worth £10 million.
With Eriksson on board and the backing of First Bank of London, Notts County FC agreed to be sold to King.
He then took Eriksson to North Korea where he signed a deal with the communist leadership which gave one of his front companies the rights to mine all the country’s gold, oil and iron ore, in return for £1 billion from Bahrain.
When the money dried up, King was on the first plane out of England.