John Paul Airs
A ferry big con
Inside Out tells the story of how a convicted fraudster from Dover managed to deceive not only the French and British ferry industry, but also politicians, investors and journalists from both sides of the English Channel.
John Paul Airs is a self-styled business visionary who appeared out of nowhere in Dover in 2006 boasting that he was going to revolutionise the ferry industry.
His grand plan was to launch his own fleet of new fast ferries to compete with the likes of Sea France and P&O.
Mr Airs was already in discussions with the Ports of Dover, Folkestone and Sheerness.
And he had hundreds of millions of pounds to play with.
"My funds come from business associates who are in the Middle East.
"They could buy Dover in the bat of an eyelid.
"We will be a force to be contended with and we will be sailing - it's as simple as that."
John Paul Airs at a press launch.
Courting the press
The minute John Paul Airs popped up in Dover promoting himself as the saviour of the ferry industry, he started making headlines.
Simon Finlay, the Dover Express Editor, said, "Here you have a man coming in with all this investment and all these jobs at a most improbable time.
"I must admit he raised a few eyebrows in the industry. Where is he getting the money from and how is he going to pay for it?"
John Paul Airs' new ferry company was called Chikara Shipping and immediately Mr Airs began courting the press.
As well as the newspapers he wanted the BBC to witness first hand the birth of his ferry empire, and he was soon telling us that he was already building a fleet of new ferries and would be up and sailing before long.
The BGV deal
By November 2006 Mr Airs' port of choice had moved from Dover to what he was calling 'London Sheerness', while over in France he’d be sailing into Boulogne.
He signed a deal for a fleet of new ferries designed by a French firm called BGV.
The contract was worth several hundred million pounds, three shipyards would build a fleet of high speed craft to carry passengers and lorries all the way from Spain to Norway, stopping en-route at Boulogne and Sheerness.
The project was to be a European first tapping into EU subsidies on offer for getting lorries off the roads and onto Mr Airs' new breed of cleaner and greener ferries.
But for Christian Gautier from BGV Europe Ltd and Alain Rousseau, Director of the Port of Boulogne, getting the money out of John Paul Airs was to test their patience to the end.
The truth is John Paul Airs already had what he wanted - publicity.
Chikara Shipping was now on the European stage, and that made it far easier for Mr Airs to secure loans from investors willing to pour money into his company.
Mr Airs presented bank bonds as collateral.
International financier Kevin Cooper’s clients lent John Paul Airs £1.6m for his ferry empire.
As collateral Mr Airs put up bank bonds worth £100m from Banco do Brasil. He promised to repay the loan as soon as he cashed the bank bonds.
The investors dreams of rich returns soon turned sour when Mr Airs stopped paying interest.
Desperate to recover their money they took court action against him.
But then, Mr Airs produced a memo from Lloyds TSB bank in Maidstone.
Written and signed by the branch manager at Maidstone, a Mr Andy Worthington, it states that the bank bonds John Paul Airs had deposited with Lloyds TSB were GENUINE.
The investors agreed to hold off, but, by the time the bonds were finally confirmed as fake, Mr Airs had gone.
When Inside Out contacted Banco Do Brasil we received the following e-mail from Mr Oliver Kimberley, Banco do Brasil Compliance Officer in London:
"I am writing on behalf of Banco Do Brasil to confirm that the documentation bearing its name on letters and bank guarantees relating to John Paul Airs is not genuine.
"John Paul Airs is not a customer of Banco Do Brasil and has no relationship with the bank."
So, how were the fake bonds authenticated by Lloyds TSB?
Inside Out contacted Andy Worthington, who no longer works for Lloyds TSB. He closed the door in our faces without commenting, however his former employers issued a statement:
"We take issues relating to financial crime very seriously and have robust policies in place to deal with them.
Inside Out's Glenn Campbell confronts Mr Airs.
"As this matter is likely to become the subject of litigation, in the circumstances it would be inappropriate for us to comment."
Finding John Paul Airs
Inside Out set out to trace John Paul Airs. The search took us from Monte Carlo to Switzerland and finally to Sardinia where we confronted him at a villa.
There, he asked us to leave the property, which he said belonged to his wife, and threatened to call the police.
We asked him about the bank bonds and told him Banco do Brasil said they never issued them… He replied:
Mr Airs denied the bank bonds were fake.
"Why were they issued by them then? You want to take it up with Banco Do Brasil and the person who issued them by the name of… They are real, that’s the point
"Andrew Worthington has proven to everyone they are real, he’s written to everyone they are real."
Inside Out will be handing over its evidence against John Paul Airs to the Police.
John Paul Airs remains at large in Sardinia and is still trying to trade his bogus bank guarantees.
last updated: 25/04/2008 at 18:53