Mastermind behind the Ecohouse scam finally arrested in the UAE

Ecohouse, a fake Brazilian public housing development, used to be the most popular overseas property project among Singapore investors back in 2012.
Two years later, after it closed its office at Suntec City, more than 800 Singapore victims found that the project was a scam. They lost a total of over S$50 million.
Last month, the UK police decided that there was no case for the British Ecohouse victims because “it does not meet the Action Fraud threshold for investigation” (Mirror, November 5, 2020).
Meanwhile, Anthony Armstrong, the mastermind behind the Ecohouse scam, was finally arrested in the UAE. The Brazilian government was requesting for his extradition to Brazil.

Below is an article from a daily newspaper published in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Norte titled “MPF pede extradigao de Anthony Armstrong para o Brasil” (Tribuna do Norte, November 4, 2020). I have translated the full article from Portuguese to English with the help of google translate.

P.S. Special thanks to Andrew Batt for notifying us the development of the ordeal which will most likely not be covered by the local media here.

MPF asks Anthony to extradite Armstrong to Brazil

Published 2020-11-04
Luiz Henrique Gomes
News reporter

After the arrest of the former president of Alecrim Futebol Clube, Englishman Anthony Armstrong, in the UAE last week, the Federal Public Ministry (MPF) wants his extradition to Brazil. The extradition process was authorized by Federal Justice on October 29, but the request has not yet been formalized because the MPF needs to translate the documents necessary for extradition into Arabic. Anthony Armstrong is accused of embezzling at least R$75 million from almost two thousand investors in two years.

The entrepreneur was charged by the Federal Public Ministry together with seven other people – among them, stepdaughter Gabriela de Oliveira – in this year for committing 214 financial crimes, including money laundering and misrepresentation. With the lodging of complaints, the MPF said the businessman and stepdaughter, both were partners in a company, asked for the preventive arrest of investments abroad and then diverted them to four other companies and use them to their advantage.

According to Federal Justice, both were placed on Interpol’s wanted list after the complaint. However, before being arrested, Gabriela de Oliveira obtained a habeas corpus that annulled the request for preventive detention. On the 27th, after seven months on the run, Armstrong was arrested in the United Arab Emirates, where he was living. Federal Justice did not detail the circumstances of the arrest.

In addition to the businessman and stepdaughter, six other people were charged by the MPF. Five of them were accountants at Ecohouse Brasil, a company that captured international investments, and another is an employee of Caixa Economica Federal.

According to the complaint, the scheme took place by raising funds from international investors for Ecohouse Brasil, a civil construction company. To get the funds, they claimed that the company built houses under the federal government’s Minha Casa, Minha Vida program, and promised a 20% profit in 12 months on the capital invested. The profit would come from the sale of houses after construction.

Ecohouse managed to raise funds from 1,500 investors that moved R$75 million in two years, according to MPF. However, the company never built the houses and never even had an agreement with Caixa Economica Federal to participate in the Minha Casa, Minha Vida program. The money was diverted to four companies – Alecrim FC, a restaurant, a security company that had Ecohouse as its only customer, and another company to front Ecohouse.

In order to deceive international investors, the businessmen had a false statement that attested the company’s service provision for the Minha Casa, Minha Vida program. The statement was signed by an employee of Caixa Economica Federal (Brazil’s government-owned financial institution), charged by the MPF for misrepresentation. However, Caixa Economica Federal informed the MPF that the company never had an agreement to participate in the housing program.

According to the complaint, the alleged agreement with Caixa was available to researchers on the company’s website and provided assurance that it was a credible company. According to the testimony of a lawyer responsible for representing 400 investors, Anthony Armstrong “announced that working in the group was authorized by the Brazilian Government to popular housing program called ‘Minha Casa Minha Vida’.

The fraud also took place through false certificates made by the company’s accountants who said that the works were proceeding normally after visits to construction sites. Investors were taken to these sites to attest to the veracity of the investments, but, according to testimonies from employees of these works were never completed.

Labor rights

Anthony Armstrong’s arrest rekindles the hope of dozens of former workers at the companies he maintained in Rio Grande do Norte. Most of them ended up without a job right after the deployment of Operação Godfather and many, or almost all, were not entitled to any labor benefits. Ecohouse Brasil, for example, did not make FGTS deposits for servers.

“You didn’t pay my INSS, nor FGTS. Besides owing me three months of salaries. And look, I was one of the least affected. I remember there were people who asked for food from the company because they didn’t have a salary for a while, the refrigerator was empty and they were saying that next month they would pay,” said one of the former employees of Ecohouse Brasil who asked to keep his identity confidential. Alone for this former worker, Armstrong owed R$16,000 at the time of closing the company in Natal.

With the arrest of the businessman, they believe that Justice will block assets and valuables in bank accounts, in addition to auctions that, perhaps, are still in Armstrong’s name to pay off labor debts.

This was first published on Property Soul website, and reproduced with permission. 

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