As a young child in the 1980s, Anthony Constantinou lost his father, Aristos, a fashion tycoon who was shot dead in a still-unsolved murder on a London street known as Billionaires’ Row.
Three decades later, Constantinou junior appeared to have bounced back from the tragedy, heading up a fast-growing trading firm on the 21st floor of a new skyscraper at the heart of the City.
A luxury lifestyle ensued. In September 2014, he married his wife in a 2.5 million pounds ($3.1 million) ceremony on the Greek island of Santorini, flying guests over in a private jet.
He met Princess Anne when his company sponsored a London boat show in 2015, and hosted sports stars at a corporate box at Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea Football Club.
The extravagance seemingly stemmed from money inherited from his deceased father which he’d used to build a foreign-exchange trading company, Capital World Markets. It wafted an air of legitimacy to prospective clients that disappeared in an instant after police raided Constantinou’s office in the Salesforce Tower in 2015 following a tip-off.
The charts on his traders’ computers were fiction, so were his claims of riches. The fuel for his lavish way of living had been stolen from small-time investors who’d put as much as 70 million pounds into what was really a Ponzi-style scheme. Many were regular people who ended up losing their life savings.
Constantinou, now 41, was found guilty of seven counts of fraud and money laundering by a jury after a nearly two month trial at London’s Southwark Crown Court on Monday. Constantinou went missing during the trial and a warrant has been issued for his arrest. Weeks after he disappeared he was arrested in Bulgaria for carrying fake identification documents, but for unknown reasons he was let go. He remains on the run.
This story has been compiled from the court proceedings, legal filings, testimony and witness statements.
A lawyer for Constantinou declined to comment.
Constantinou enticed investors from late 2013 by boasting of generous returns – 5% per calendar month – on allegedly risk-free foreign exchange market transactions, for a minimum investment of 100,000 pounds with CWM, prosecutors said. Investors were told only 10% of their investment would be traded and the risk was guaranteed by Constantinou’s personal wealth.
The firm used a group of introducers to seek out customers by attending conferences or using existing contacts. This included Milen Khanal, who was Nepalese and helped to infiltrate the tight-knit community of Gurkhas, a famous group of soldiers from Nepal that have been recruited to the British army for over 200 years. Many Gurkhas lost thousands of pounds.
No CWM employees aside from Constantinou have been accused of any wrongdoing or are being pursued by prosecutors.
The mechanics of the scheme were operated by Constantinou, prosecutors told the jury. His introducers churned out his standard explanation to prospective investors, without properly understanding it. Constantinou controlled everything at the firm from the bank accounts to even receiving copies of all correspondence with CWM email addresses.
Ultimately, a City of London Police forensic investigator found that the payments to investors didn’t come from foreign exchange trading. In fact, there was little evidence of any significant income, and payments were merely met from investors’ capital. The prosecution said no other CWM staff knew it was a fraud.
Constantinou’s defense team argued at trial that while he was unpleasant and not a nice man to be around, he was no criminal.
Stephen Monk, who lost £60,000 in the scheme, was contemplating retirement when he met CWM introducers at a trading seminar. They told him the chief executive was a “very rich man” who was personally guaranteeing investors’ money. Monk later went to visit the office to see how they traded. “There was a small room with trading screens in it and he sat there and gave the impression that he was entering trades,” said Monk giving evidence during the trial.
But none of the traders knew much about foreign exchange trading. Constantinou’s top trader was a recent university graduate who did much of his trading on demo accounts rather than using real funds. Another trading recruit said he was asked to produce a demo program that would give the appearance of live trades, enough to fool an amateur, the prosecution said in court documents.
Constantinou tried to make those around him believe that the CWM investment strategy was too complicated for them to understand. “U think it’s by luck the money generated!?? This is a whole algorithmic strategy!!,” Constantinou said in a Whatsapp exchange with a colleague, shown in evidence. “I just don’t go into it because it’s long and boring!”
Adrian McGrath, a consultant who briefly worked at CWM, testified the traders didn’t have licenses to manage other people’s money. There were other hints that things were not as they seemed, such as sales staff using mobile phones because landlines were recorded, or a worker who was fired for using the word “Ponzi.”
Meanwhile, Constantinou used the high-profile sponsorships to reassure victims that everything was honest. Prosecutors said that Douglas Shering, whose family lost as much as 250,000 pounds, said they were swayed after seeing the company’s sponsorship of MotoGP while Brendan Boyd, who lost 100,000 pounds, was convinced CWM was a market leader after an invitation to ringside seats at a boxing event.
Wolf of Hampstead
Despite lacking any real financial credentials, Constantinou conducted himself like he was the Wolf of Wall Street – or the “Wolf of Hampstead” as the prosecution said one of his associates joked. Ex-employees painted a picture of Constantinou as an aggressive bully who fostered a toxic work environment, including sacking people on the spot. Constantinou was often drunk at work, with a stock of champagne and vodka in the office. He was once seen pouring a bottle of the spirit down a trader’s throat, a witness said.
The atmosphere at the CWM office was the center of a separate criminal case in 2016. Constantinou was convicted of two separate counts of sexual assault against two women at the offices in 2014 and in 2015. He was sentenced to 12 months in prison. At the time, the City of London Police said in a statement that he had “clearly thought that his demeaning, intimidating behavior was acceptable.”
At 9:20 a.m. on March 3, 2015, scores of police officers turned up at CWM’s offices to shut down the operation and seize documents. They’d started to investigate following a tip-off from a former employee and wanted to intervene before it collapsed. At that point, investors were still receiving their monthly returns, but the capital was fast running out, the jury was told. Constantinou’s large, rented property on a salubrious road beside Hampstead Heath was also searched. There, they seized documents on a purchase by Constantinou of a 4.3 million pounds property at Kenley House in Surrey.
During the trial, Constantinou’s defense lawyer called him a “selfish, spoiled, entitled man-child” who was “not a nice man to work for and not a nice man to deal with,” but they argued he was not a criminal. His team pointed the blame at senior colleagues and said his ambitions for the firm showed he couldn’t possibly be defrauding his customers.
Constantinou will be sentenced on June 9, whether or not he is present.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)