The Betting Investment Firm Whose Big Gamble Went Bust

The Journal (Newcastle, England), February 14, 2014 | Go to article overview

The Betting Investment Firm Whose Big Gamble Went Bust


Byline: Michael Brown Reporter m.brown@ncjmedia.co.uk

BETTING investment firm bosses have been banned from running another company for eight years after losing millions while gamblers were kept in the dark.

Northumberland-based Centaur Global collapsed in 2012, owing PS2m. At the time it went under the firm had been trading while insolvent for two years.

Now an insolvency judgement reveals the full extent of the failure - and how it may never be known where all the money went.

Founded by a former Audit Commission senior manager Keith Sobey in 2000, Centaur provided members of the public and institutions with the opportunity to invest in gaming related funds and in gambling.

It went on to open an "academy" in the heart of London's financial district and as recently as January 2011 claimed it was on track to handle PS20m worth of investment funds, creating PS2m a year in revenue.

But Centaur was placed into liquidation in January 2012 owing creditors more than PS2m, including a significant shortfall of client account monies.

Now the Insolvency Service judgement show the company was in trouble long before that, losing money nearly every month from the end of 2008 onwards, and using its clients' supposedly ring-fenced cash to try to cover mounting problems at the business.

Centaur started life as a tipping service with Sobey, 65, his wife Hazel, 60 - a former head of payroll for C&A - and fellow auditor Andrew Cork, 54, at the helm.

It opened its City trading academy in January 2010 on the back of changes to legislation which opened up the European betting and sports investment markets.

The 4,000sq ft academy in London's City Tower offices delivered training, mentoring and analysis services to "sports traders", with a daily course costing up to PS500.

The company's investment products were privately-managed accounts rather than pooled funds and used investors' money to follow betting programmes on horse-racing, football and tennis. Sobey - who had homes in Seahouses, the Lake District, London and Tenerife, and owned the Northumberland village's newsagents, which his family ran - claimed his horse-racing fund delivered a 200% annual return and said he hoped to expand the business into the US and eventually bring in revenues of PS100m.

But in 2009 Centaur Global made net losses of PS414,598, and the picture did not improve in 2010, as the firm found itself down a further PS465,817.

Analysis of Centaur Global's records and accounts showed that money from clients' accounts was being used to shore up the company.

By December 2011 the total shortfall in its clients' accounts had passed PS1.5m, but directors continued to advertise as if clients' money was protected. …

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