Exposed: Hampstead media mogul wanted in South Africa over 348 counts of tax fraud
- Credit: Picture supplied by Willemijntje Fenton-Bijleveld
A Hampstead businessman, who is wanted on 348 criminal charges in South Africa, is today exposed by the Ham&High.
Media entrepreneur Edmond Fenton fled from justice nearly a decade ago just as he was to stand trial for alleged tax fraud in Cape Town.
The former dentist took flight to France but more recently has lived in the exclusive Visage Apartment block in Hampstead. He continues to do business, perfectly legally, in the UK.
A warrant for Mr Fenton’s arrest remains active in South Africa and should he ever step foot there again he is likely to be arrested immediately.
He even has a four-month prison term over his head, handed out by the High Court of South Africa for contempt.
The judge in that case accused Mr Fenton of having “an apparent obsessive unwillingness to accept the outcome of the decisions of the courts” and said he was “seemingly a fugitive of justice of this country”.
This information can be published for the first time today, a month after the conclusion of a trial at Blackfriars Crown Court.
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In that trial Mr Fenton, 71, was accused of defrauding an elderly cousin of £400,000. He was cleared by a jury of all charges after his defence showed he had power of attorney.
The jury in that case was not told of the outstanding criminal charges in South Africa, which can be revealed following a Ham&High investigation.
Our reporter tracked down Mr Fenton, who also ran a failed UK TV production company promoted by Mayor of London Boris Johnson, and confronted him about the outstanding warrants for his arrest.
“I don’t think I can make any comment,” he told the Ham&High.
The 71-year-old was a well-known Cape Town socialite and hotel owner before he absconded from South Africa a decade ago.
Two warrants for Mr Fenton’s arrest, relating to two separate sets of court proceedings, remain active today.
Yet he has lived in this country in a flat in the exclusive Visage Apartment block in Winchester Road, Hampstead, and beyond the arm of the law in South Africa.
This newspaper’s investigation can reveal Mr Fenton took flight in 2007 just as he was about to stand trial charged with 348 counts of fraud and tax evasion.
It was a steep fall from grace for the British dentist who had moved in elite circles in Cape Town high society in the 1990s and 2000s.
Along with his now estranged wife, a Dutch widow with a £2million fortune who is 15 years his senior, Mr Fenton was a regular face on the society pages of Cape Town newspapers.
The couple lived in a palatial ocean-front mansion on the Cape Town coast and moored a yacht at the Royal Cape Yacht Club.
Pictures from the time show the Fentons with politicians, sports stars and royalty – including South African president Jacob Zuma, former British prime minister Sir John Major and his wife Norma, former Dutch prime minister Wim Kok, and South African cricket boss Percy Sonn.
But Mr Fenton’s affluent lifestyle began to unravel as the South African police’s commercial crime unit launched investigations into his affairs in 2002.
Two years later, Mr Fenton and 19 companies he was connected to were charged with 348 counts of alleged income tax and VAT evasion.
The original prosecutor in the case, advocate Bronwen Hendry, gave a statement to the General Dental Council (GDC) in the UK in 2010 when the professional body considered allegations of misconduct against Mr Fenton.
She told the GDC: “On March 9, 2004 Mr Fenton was charged with 348 counts of fraud and various statutory conventions relating to his tax affairs, and tax affairs of the corporate entities under his control.”
A charge sheet, spanning 51 pages, alleges Mr Fenton “wrongfully, falsely and with intent to defraud” filed tax returns showing no income to avoid paying income tax.
But as his trial date approached the British dentist fled South Africa and even telephoned the prosecutor to confirm he had gone abroad.
“I received a telephone call from Mr Fenton,” Ms Hendry said in the GDC statement. “He informed me that he was in France and would therefore be unable to attend court on June 8, 2007.
“I informed Mr Fenton that by leaving South Africa he was in breach of his bail conditions and that a warrant for his arrest would be issued.”
The National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa confirmed a warrant for Mr Fenton’s arrest is still active,
Advocate David Damerell, director of public prosecutions for the Western Cape, told the Ham&High this week: “He is consequently a fugitive from justice. This is still the current position.”
But these were not the only court proceedings Mr Fenton was involved with at the time that he fled South Africa.
In 2007 and 2008 he was being sued in the High Court of South Africa over disputed bookings at the Strand Beach Hotel, an ocean-front property with majestic views of Table Mountain which the Fentons had owned.
He was subject to a court order in relation to the case but breached it and, in December 2008, was found to be in contempt of court.
Mr Justice Le Grange, of the High Court of South Africa, sentenced him to four months imprisonment and accused Mr Fenton of having “an apparent obsessive unwillingness to accept the outcome of the decisions of the courts”.
Of course, by this time, Mr Fenton had already left South Africa.
Two years later, in February 2010, the UK’s General Dental Council held a Professional Conduct Committee to decide whether Mr Fenton should be struck off for evading criminal proceedings in South Africa.
The dentist, who had a practice in Skegness until 2001, was not present and was understood to be travelling in South America at the time.
Making the case for the GDC, counsel Rebecca Harris told the hearing: “Mr Fenton appears, certainly in the context of South Africa, to hold the entire legal system in contempt.”
She said his actions “demonstrated a blatant disregard for the laws and procedures of the country”.
Mr Fenton was struck off for bringing the profession into disrepute.
The committee ruled that he had “been shown to be highly evasive from authorities seeking him” and had “repeatedly and blatantly disregarded criminal and civil proceedings” against him.
Delivering the ruling, committee chairwoman Debbie Norton said: “Furthermore, the committee is of the view that the registrant’s behaviour is profoundly unacceptable.”
Since he has returned to the UK, Mr Fenton has held positions of responsibility with a number of UK companies.
One of his businesses, a production company named TV London Ltd, counted Mayor of London Boris Johnson among its supporters but was liquidated owing money to creditors in 2010.
Our reporter attempted to track down Mr Fenton at the Visage Apartment block in Winchester Road to confront him about the outstanding criminal charges in South Africa, but could only contact him by telephone.
When the allegations were put to him, Mr Fenton said: “Well I don’t think I really can comment because your article needs some sort of response and I’m giving it considered thought about how I really do that.
“I’d just be aware of the grounds on which you base your assumption and your confirmation, I’m not so sure they’re correct.”
The Ham&High has passed its findings to the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa which is reviewing its case file.
* Buy this week’s Ham&High today for more exclusive revelations about the extraordinary past of Edmond Fenton.
JURY WAS IN THE DARK
The Ham&High was first made aware of Edmond Fenton’s long history of legal disputes in South Africa in July last year, but has been unable to publish before now because of court proceedings in the UK.
These related to allegations that Mr Fenton, 71, “pillaged” more than £400,000 from the bank accounts of his 100-year-old cousin, Marie Ell, and sold her house, transferring the proceeds to himself.
The prosecution had alleged the 100-year-old pensioner, who was living in an old people’s home at the time and has since died, was “confused”.
But Mr Fenton denied the allegations and said he had transferred the money and sold her house in Priory Grove, Romford, after Miss Ell’s distinct requests.
He told Blackfriars Crown Court that he cared deeply for “feisty” Miss Ell and was acting on her instructions and in her interests.
He was cleared by a jury last month and found innocent of all charges.
His defence showed he had power of attorney and his cousin had drafted a will leaving all her assets to him.
The jury was not told of the outstanding criminal charges against Mr Fenton in South Africa.
WHY HASN’T EDMOND FENTON BEEN EXTRADITED?
This newspaper has offered to pass details of Edmond Fenton’s whereabouts to the National Prosecuting Authority of South Africa.
But authorities there are powerless to act as tax fraud is not an extraditable offence, meaning Mr Fenton is effectively outside the arm of the South African law.
Advocate David Damerell, director of public prosecutions for the Western Cape, told the Ham&High: “Extraditable offences do not include tax offences. There would be a problem about trying to extradite him on that basis, because of the exclusion.”
The Hampstead pensioner is red-flagged locally by Interpol for entry into South Africa.
This means he will only be arrested if he voluntarily returns to the country.