Liberal Democrats' biggest donor arrested in the Dominican Republic
MULTI-millionaire British fraudster Michael Brown has been arrested in Punta Cana after going on the run, police say. Brown was sentenced in his absence to seven years in jail after being convicted of fraud at Southwark Crown Court in 2008.
Earlier stories from September 2011
The Liberal Democrats' biggest donor, who has been on the run for three years after being convicted of a multimillion pound theft, is hiding in the Dominican Republic under a false British identity, the Guardian can disclose.
Michael Brown, 45, the convicted Glaswegian who bankrolled the party with £2.4m of stolen money, is being sought by British authorities on the Caribbean island but is currently at large. Brown disappeared from Britain while on parole and was sentenced in his absence to seven years in prison.
The disclosure of Brown's bolthole will be an embarrassment for Nick Clegg. His party has refused to compensate Brown's victims, some of whom claim their money went directly into the party's coffers to finance the 2005 election campaign.
City of London police detectives have been in talks with the Crown Prosecution Service over how to bring back Brown. The Dominican Republic does not have an extradition treaty with Britain. The Home Office is believed to have approached its government for help in apprehending him.
While on the island, Brown has been based in the province of La Altagracia, the easternmost tip of the Republic close to some of its most beautiful beaches.
One source with knowledge of Brown said he has lived a low-key but pleasant life. "His businesses have been doing OK. He has lived in a wealthy area, he loves the beaches and he plays golf on some of the world's best courses. It could be worse."
Brown, who was using an alias, was held on remand by the Dominican authorities while he was investigated over an oil deal. Court papers from the country's capital in Santa Domingo show he was accused by a Dominican businessman in February of failing to honour a contract for 4,820 tonnes of oil.
He was ordered to be held for three months while the investigation continued. Its outcome is not known.
It has also been established that he launched a real estate business in 2008 based in the Republic, and has launched a subsidiary in Nassau in the Bahamas.
Michael Robert Alexander Brown appeared from nowhere when he approached the Liberal Democrats in November 2004 with a generous offer of money for Charles Kennedy's impending election campaign.
The brash, ponytailed Brown claimed to be an offshore trader living in Majorca. His claimed his clients were vetted by US embassy officials. Despite not being a party member, not being registered to vote and living abroad, he was welcomed with open arms by the party's grandees. Money came through his company, 5th Avenue Partners, in four tranches. It remains the biggest donation ever received by the party from an individual.
In the general election, the party increased its share of the vote by nearly 4% after the cash was spent on posters and advertising.
Brown told journalists that he had given the enormous donation because he liked Kennedy. "Charles is my kind of man. And I like to see a level playing field," he said.
Within months, Brown was flying Kennedy across Britain in a private jet and was being invited to dinners in Mayfair. Former Lib Dem insiders say he dazzled them with stories of Gordonstoun public school and St Andrew's University.
In fact, he had failed his maths O-level at his local school and completed a City and Guilds in catering at Glasgow College of Food Technology. He had no US government links – although he was wanted in Florida for cheque fraud.
Brown was arrested in late 2005 after four former clients came forward claiming he had duped them out of more than £40m in a high-yield fraud.
His victims included Martin Edwards, the former Manchester United chairman, who had invested £8m with 5th Avenue Partners.
In June 2008, while awaiting trial for theft, false accounting and perverting the course of justice, Brown fled and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
In the weeks before he disappeared from his Hampstead bail address in north London, he changed his name on the electoral roll to Campbell-Brown and allowed his hair to turn grey.
In his absence the court was told that the political donation was made to impress clients and create an air of importance and influence around Brown.
The disclosure of his whereabouts has given hope to Brown's victims who are still owed millions.
A copy of the passport that Brown has been using has been obtained by the Guardian. It shows a noticeably older and gaunt Brown, sporting dark hair and a goatee beard, compared with photographs taken four years ago when he was awaiting trial. He is believed to have adopted someone else's real identity which has been obscured at the request of the police.
Tony Brown, managing partner at law firm Bivonas which represents US attorney Robert Mann who was lost more than $5m (£3m), said: "This development may allow us to pursue Brown's assets in the Dominican Republic for our client."
Mann's legal team was forced last year to drop a high court claim against the Lib Dems for the return of around $600,000 after running out of funds. He hopes that if Brown is returned to Britain, any subsequent court case could cause further uncomfortable questions for the party.The Liberal Democrats have maintained that the money was received in good faith and have been cleared by an Electoral Commission inquiry into Brown's donations.
A police investigation has been launched this week into how Brown fraudulently obtained a passport. A spokesman for City of London police declined to comment. The Home Office declined to comment.
Update - Jailed in Dom Rep for fraud
The Liberal Democrats’ biggest donor paid for a Dominican businessman’s honeymoon while conning him out of £201,000 in an oil deal, the Daily Mail can reveal.
Michael Brown ‘craftily’ paid for Cesar Polanco to take a trip to the Bahamas with his new wife to win his trust.
But when Mr Polanco asked what was happening with the £1.5million oil deal they had signed together, he was fobbed off – before being told he could not have his money.
Brown was hauled before a court in the Dominican Republic, jailed for three months and ordered to pay Mr Polanco and others back the total amount.
But so far he is understood to have only made the first payment – meaning Mr Polanco and his father-in-law, who also invested in the deal, are still £135,000 out of pocket.
Brown fled to the Caribbean island in 2008 after being sentenced in absentia in Britain to seven years in jail for a multi-million-pound fraud.
His victims have demanded that the Liberal Democrats give back the £2.4million he gave them but the party has refused.
Now it appears that Brown’s flight from British justice has brought him the same kind of trouble he would have faced had he stayed at home and faced the music.
Mr Espaillat angrily told the court in the capital Santo Domingo that all of Brown’s promises were an ‘illusion’ and a ‘front’.
In her ruling, judge Ileana Garcia agreed and jailed Brown for three months.
The Mail can also reveal this was not Brown’s only brush with the law while in the Dominican Republic.
The authorities there were so concerned that they have twice banned him from leaving the country, once in November last year. Another similar order, which meant his passport was confiscated, expired in June this year.
It also appears that Brown has been involved in a telemarketing scam in which he calls people and tells them they have won a car or huge cash prizes, before asking them for money.
It was in February 2005 that Brown gave the Lib Dems £2.4million, the largest donation they had ever received, which helped the party to achieve its most successful election result since the Second World War.
But his claims to be a successful businessman with ties to landed gentry fell apart soon after and in November 2005 he was arrested.
He was accused of convincing a string of investors into putting £60million into bonds that did not exist.
While on bail, he changed his appearance and fled Britain.
There appears little chance he will be hauled back to face justice as the UK has no extradition treaty with the Dominican Republic.
No one told us Lib Dem fraudster was on our island, say Dominican police.
Police in the Dominican Republic are now searching for the British fugitive, backed by a threat to deport him because he is in the country on false documents.
But they expressed dismay that British police never told them that Brown was on the Caribbean island.
The con man was in custody on unrelated charges for three months this year, but freed because they had no idea he was a wanted man.
"We cannot deal with what we do not know," said the judge who jailed him.
Brown escaped from Britain on a false passport three years ago while on bail awaiting trial for a £36 million fraud. He has been living a millionaire's lifestyle on the Caribbean island, which has no extradition agreement with Britain.
The Sunday Telegraph can reveal that he has been sharing a series of exclusive homes with his "concubina", Carol Baez, 26, a student.
The whereabouts of his wife, Sharon, who has been living in Majorca are unknown. Telephone bills from Brown's home in the Dominican Republic showed that he was in almost daily contact with her until last November.
It can also be revealed that the Parliamentary Ombudsman has begun a "maladministration" investigation into Brown's £2.4 million donation to the Liberal Democrats before the 2005 election, heaping fresh embarrassment on the party at the start of its annual conference.
City of London Police say they have known Brown's whereabouts for some time. Last week two men were arrested on suspicion of helping Brown escape.
Despite this, the island's Policia Nacional and the Dominican branch of Interpol say they were never alerted that Brown, who is living under the alias Darren Patrick Nally, was in their country.
Last February, Brown was sent to La Victoria prison outside Santo Domingo after being arrested as he tried to flee the country. He had been under house arrest after a private prosecution by two local businessmen in a dispute over a £1.5 million oil deal.
Brown apparently persuaded the men to invest in the project but failed to honour the deal.
Judge Ileana Garcia Perez ordered him to be detained at La Victoria prison. Brown had his head shaved and was taken to the jail, where thousands of prisoners are reputed to live in squalid conditions. He was released last May and vanished without the island's authorities knowing he was an international fugitive.
Judge Perez said last night: "I had no idea this man was anyone other than Darren Nally.
"We had not been given any information by the British that he was anyone other than Nally. We had no way of knowing he was someone else.
"It is a little surprising that we were never informed by the British that he was wanted for another crime abroad."
Last week the Interpol office in the Dominican Republic opened a file on Brown and asked its London bureau for more information after being alerted to his presence by The Sunday Telegraph.
Files sent from London showed that the man whose identity Brown had been using for more than three years also had a long criminal record including a history of violence and drug offences.
A senior Interpol officer said: "We have never received any previous requests regarding either Darren Nally or Michael Brown and we are now beginning inquiries about them."
Col Maximo Baez, a spokesman for the Dominican Republic's national chief of police, said: "We are alarmed that someone with this criminal background has been living in our country. There is no extradition treaty between Britain and the Dominican Republic.
"But extradition and deportation are two different things.
"If a man comes to the Dominican Republic on false documents he is breaking our laws and we do not want him here. Such a person, if found, will be deported."
In Britain the Parliamentary Ombudsman is examining the Electoral Commission's decision to clear the Lib Dems of any wrongdoing over Brown's donation.
It reached the decision two years ago on the grounds that Brown's company was a permissible donor when it gave the money, and that the party had acted in good faith.
Charles Kennedy, the former Lib Dem leader, said last week that the party "went the extra mile" to check out the legitimacy of Brown's donation. But letters between Brown and senior party officials, obtained by The Sunday Telegraph, suggest this was not the case.
One letter written by the fraudster to Lord Razzall, the party's campaign chairman at the time, criticises it for doing "little or no due diligence" on the veracity of his donation.
Writing in 2005, when he first faced questions from the Electoral Commission, Brown asked why the party had not ensured that the cash met political party rules before accepting it. Accusing them of putting him in an embarrassing position, he said: "I am very unhappy … there could be some legal challenge to the donations."
The Electoral Commission was examining whether Brown's firm, 5th Avenue Partners, was trading in Britain and therefore a permissible donor.
Brown told the peer: "As a donor, I do not have detailed knowledge of the rules and rely on the party to verify that the donation is proper.
"In the case of the donation made by my company, very little due diligence was undertaken.
"Whilst there is no question that the company was set up as a shell vehicle through which to make the donation, it was evident from the public records that the company was recently incorporated and had not filed statutory accounts."
A few days later David Griffiths, the Lib Dem treasurer at the time, wrote to the Electoral Commission detailing its evidence that the donation was above board. In a letter to Brown's company accountants on the same day, Mr Griffiths, who died earlier this month, said he hoped the information given to the commission would be the end of the matter.
In October 2005, Lord Rennard, the Lib Dem Chief Executive, wrote to tell Brown that the Electoral Commission had sanctioned the donation.
The new probe, prompted by a member of the public, is now looking at whether the Electoral Commission was wrong to ignore the evidence presented to the Crown Court that Brown's firm, used to make the political donation, never traded legitimately and was merely a front for fraud.
Brown was tried in absentia and sentenced to seven years in jail for fraud. But the commission apparently decided this was not relevant to its inquiry.
If it decides the commission acted improperly, the Ombudsman can order it to reopen the case and force the Lib Dems to return the cash to Brown's fraud victims.
More recent photos of Michael Brown: