ONE of the More Bizarre Serious Fraud Office Investigations Was the $1.8Bn Sumitomo Copper Scandal, Which Led to SFO Director George Staple and Four of His Senior Colleagues Being Summoned before a Judge for Contempt of Court

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ONE of the more bizarre Serious Fraud Office investigations was the $1.8bn Sumitomo copper scandal, which led to SFO director George Staple and four of his senior colleagues being summoned before a judge for contempt of court.

The contempt proceedings were part of one of the SFO's more unusual investigations which followed the discovery that Yasuo Hamanaka, chief copper trader at the Japanese trading giant Sumitomo, had been manipulating the world's copper market with company funds. London became involved because many of Hamanaka's deals were executed through the City and UK authorised brokers.

Alan King, a diligent civil investigator with the Securities & Futures Authority (SFA), then the London watchdog for brokers and futures dealers, did much of the early digging on the case. King began his inquiry in 1994 after Codelco, the Chilean state copper company, claimed it had been the victim of a $200m fraud by its former chief trader, Juan Pablo Davila.

Some of Davila's trades were routed through Winchester Commodities Group founded by Charles Vincent (dubbed "Copperfingers" for his trading skills) and Ashley Levett, better known as the man who bought Richmond Rugby Union Club.

At the height of Winchester's success it was claimed that the two young founders, who both have homes in Britain and Monte Carlo, earned [pound]15m in a single year. As King dug further, he found Winchester's name kept cropping up in connection with Sumitomo.

It was his eagle eye that eventually alerted the Japanese authorities to the scale of Hamanaka's fraudulent trading. …