TWO men at the centre of an alleged £740m fraud have a history of inventing organisations and forging documents, a court heard yesterday.
A jury was told how Achilleas Kallakis and Alexander Williams, both 44, were convicted in the mid-1990s of conspiracy to commit forgery over a scheme to sell bogus honorary titles to unsuspecting Americans.
The pair are currently on trial for forging documents, setting up fake companies and changing their names to defraud Allied Irish Bank and Bank of Scotland out of £740m and €26m (£22.6m) respectively.
They deny conspiracy to defraud, forgery, fraud by false representation, money laundering and obtaining a money transfer by deception.
But Southwark Crown Court was told how the pair were aged in their 20s when they were convicted of inventing fictitious bodies, including the National Office of Heraldry and the Institution of Heraldic Affairs, to give their business venture a semblance of authenticity.
They used a historic company name, which dated back to 1835, and then advertised bogus titles for sale in the ' Wall Street Journal', ' The Economist' and the main English-language magazine of the United Arab Emirates.
Customers who bought the titles were defrauded out of £50,000, which was never returned, jurors were told.
Victor Temple QC, prosecuting, said the fraud illustrates a pattern of forging documents and references to gain business advantage.
But giving evidence, Mr Kallakis told the jury he had pleaded guilty to the forgery, but claimed his solicitors advised him the fraudulent scheme was legal.
He said "it was very clear we had broken the law", but added that the breach was "inadvertent."
He said: "We were very young. We had no experience of business of this nature and we got involved in something where we received bad advice.
"I think if the judge had felt we had deliberately broken the law, the sentence would have been more than community service for a few hours."
However, in intense cross examination, Mr Temple QC painted Mr Kallakis as an unscrupulous businessman willing "to sign anything to meet the moment".
He revealed Mr Kallakis had been involved in two previous failed business ventures, which collapsed owing creditors hundreds of thousands of pounds.
"If you want any documentation to back up your position at any given moment, you will produce it," Mr Temple QC told him.
Mr Kallakis was forced to deny forging a number of references from eminent people, including the late Lord Ralph Harris.
He was probed about Mr Williams's interest in calligraphy and document design – and admitted a document put forward as a guarantee from a Swiss bank resembles the style of Mr Williams's own letters.
Mr Temple QC described the letter as "bogus from first to last".
The jury were also told Mr Kallakis continued to use an "aura of wealth" and high society to give an air of respectability, travelling in a chauffeur- driven car and hosting celebrities, royalty and diplomats.
He hosted finance contacts during a three-day party in St Petersburg in celebration of his 10th wedding anniversary, and during a trip to Mauritius.
The prosecution allege Mr Kallakis and Mr Williams constructed a fantastical business empire stretching from London to Athens, Hong Kong and the US.
The trial, which is due to last for three months, continues.