Monday, 12 September 2011

Michael Brown 2

A new name, but still living the high life; In his tropical hideout,
he is a golfer called Darren. Back home Michael Brown is facing seven
years in jail

JASON LEWIS Investigations Editor in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic

11 September 2011
The Sunday Telegraph
Fugitive: Life of luxury at Villa 93





















"IT'S MISTER DARREN," says Chito Messon, the ageing president of the
Puerto Plata golf club, as he examines the picture on the mobile phone
screen in front of him.

"I know him long time, he played here many times. I know his face very
well. He is a good golfer, he did not beat me of course, but he was a
challenge."

As he speaks, Mr Messon surveys the lush greens from the whitewashed
veranda of the "Fairways" club house. The course, 18 holes of
immaculately manicured lawns winding their way through palm trees and
past the crystal clear ocean, was, he says, "a haven" for the man he
knew as Darren.

"He would come alone, always alone. He drove an expensive car. He
liked the finer things. He wore immaculate clothes, expensive watches.
He was very wealthy, a millionaire, and used to mixing with wealthy
people."

In the club office, an official opens a filing cabinet and produces a
membership form. "Darren P Nally", it says, occupation, "Empresario".
Clipped to the top of the page is a passport-sized photograph.

His hair is dyed blond and swept across his face in a side parting,
but it is unmistakable.

This is Michael Brown, the former multi-millionaire Liberal Democrat
donor, and a fugitive from justice since June 2008.

The snap bares little resemblance to the publicity shots for which he
once posed to promote his fraudulent schemes. Brown, a Glaswegian,
first attracted the attention of fraud officers in Naples, Florida, in
the mid-1990s, where he owned a large house and was arrested for
writing bad cheques. By the turn of the millennium he was in London,
pretending his father was a lord, claiming connections with royalty
and promising investors huge returns. He used his clients' millions to
fund an "extravagant lifestyle", pay business expenses and keep other
investors happy with "pretend" returns.

He rented a £49,000-a-year Mayfair apartment and office and drove a
Range Rover with the number plate 5 AVE, the name of the firm he used
to channel cash to the Liberal Democrats, as well as a Bentley and a
Porsche. He spent £2.5million on a private jet, £400,000 on an
ocean-going yacht and £327,000 on an entertainment system for his home
in Majorca.

On November 28 2008, a jury convicted Brown of two counts of theft,
one of furnishing false information and one of perverting the course
of justice after hearing how he had carefully crafted an "illusion of
wealth and influence" designed to give him the social acceptability he
craved.

But throughout the trial the dock was empty. When Brown was sentenced
to seven years in jail in absentia, he was already in the Dominican
Republic, quietly enjoying a new life of freedom.

While the police have failed to recover millions of pounds from his
fraud, it seems Brown has had no problem accessing the cash.

Travelling on a false passport — his new name is no coincidence:
Darren Nally is the older brother of Paul, the convicted drug runner
who helped him flee Britain - Brown has been living in the same style
to which he became accustomed in London.

But where previously he had happily posed for pictures to promote
grandiose moneymaking schemes and mixed at society events with his
wife, Sharon, he now shuns the limelight.

He rented a $1,000-a-day furnished villa at Sea Horse Ranch in
Cabarete, a gated beachside community for the super-rich, which is
guarded night and day by security guards carrying shotguns.

A dinner reservation at its cliff-top beach club gets you through the
security gate and on to a winding, tree-lined road which runs through
the property. But at every junction leading to its well-appointed
villas, many of which come with their own butler and chef, heavily
armed uniformed guards wave you on your way.

Documents obtained by The Sunday Telegraph show Brown consistently
gave Villa 93 on the estate as his address for more than a year. Owned
by an English businessman called Thomas Bell, Brown took it over on a
long-term let soon after he arrived on the island.

Evelyn Barrientos, the villa administrator at Sea Horse Ranch, denies
even knowing Brown. Shown several photos of the fugitive last week she
says he had never lived at the complex. "I know everyone who lives
here and I have never seen him," she adds. But other staff remember
him and claim he lived there for at least two years.

He joined the Puerto Plata Golf Club in March 2009, nine months after
disappearing from Britain. Those who met him on the course knew he was
"English", but his fluent Spanish betrayed nothing of his Glasgow
roots. He dressed in expensive clothes and chatted about cars, watches
and golf, but little else.

He joined local golfers on two-hour trips up the coast to another more
challenging course perched on the cliffs overlooking the sparkling
Atlantic, where he is remembered by caddies as an occasional visitor.
Mr Messon says: "He never talked about himself.

He did not say where he was from or discuss his business dealings. He
was polite and friendly. Good company.

"But in this country many people, especially foreigners, have much to
hide. It seemed he did not want to talk about himself, so we asked no
questions."

The young German owner of the petrol station opposite Sea Horse Ranch
remembers Brown's Audi Q5 and says he also had access to a Jaguar
sports car - a rare luxury on the area's rutted roads, where hundreds
of motor scooters hurtle past at breakneck speed, often driven on the
wrong side of the road.

"I saw him often," he says. "He came in for petrol and for English
language magazines. We were neighbours but I know nothing about his
past or his background, but that is not unusual here." Brown seems to
have avoided the beach bars and restaurants in and around Cabarete,
which are a magnet for tourists and the large British and American
expat community.

Several months ago he suddenly stopped playing at the local course and
seems to have vacated his smart villa. At other local businesses where
he went to buy food and English magazines, he had not been seen for
"several weeks". There is some suggestion that he started a new
business involving telemarketing. There are a couple of references to
a "Darren Nally" running a company that was still active a month ago.

Others talk of him buying into a real estate company on the island and
investing in property in Samana, the country's north-eastern
peninsula. The unspoilt haven of vast white beaches, palm trees and
bays where pods of humpback whales come every year to breed and nurse
their young, is awash with money and half-baked, get-rich-quick
schemes.

Last week, City of London Police confirmed that Brown was still on
their top 10 most wanted list, but unofficially they seem resigned to
never getting their man.

The Foreign Office has extradition treaties with more than 100
countries across the globe and there are few places today's criminals
can run to and stay hidden.

But Britain appears to have little sway in the Dominican Republic,
where bribery is endemic and international drug cartels have operated
with impunity.

The country's constitution protects its citizens from extradition to
face trial abroad and these rights also extend to foreigners with
residency status.

According to the Dominican government, "in the absence of
international treaties, Dominican laws provide that the country can
grant extradition according to reciprocity principles". But this will
usually involve a diplomatic chess game in which Britain would have to
promise some hidden, costly concession in return for their wanted man.
In reality, the only countries with extradition agreements and the
influence to use them are the USA and Spain, though even then a local
judge must rule that the offence has a "certain importance" and is not
"politically motivated".

No one has ever been extradited from the Dominican Republic to Britain
and there is little hope that Michael Brown will be the first. "It
seemed he did not want to talk about himself, so we asked no questions