Case of fraud extends into the Saanenland

Thu, 30. Jan. 2020
Paul and Jane Andrews are stunned that something like this could happen to them. (Martin Gurtner-Duperrex)

For years he scammed shops, banks and private individuals in the Saanenland, Pays-d’Enhaut and the Riviera region for services and money – a lot of money.

Now he faces a prison sentence and subsequent deportation. The person in question is Simon Welsh alias Louis. How was this possible and how can you protect yourself?

“I considered him a friend, we often went out for a beer together,” says Paul Andrews, owner of a local real estate agency. It all started when Louis, as he called himself, called him in a panic, said he had gone out in his recently deceased wife’s car without valid insurance and was promptly caught by the police – he urgently needed money to pay the fines. Andrews and his wife Jane were wondering whether this was a hoax, he says, shaking his head. They finally decided to help Welsh out because their son, who died of cancer at the age of 15, had gone to school with Louis’ daughter and the family was obviously considered rich in Gstaad circles.

The friendly relationship was established two years ago, when Louis wanted to buy a chalet for his two children, a promise to his wife on her deathbed. The British liked the house, but since the family fortune was apparently invested abroad – he was talking about Monaco, Marbella, Dubai, Barbados, Moldova – the financing was complicated and opaque. And when the purchase contract was finally ready for signature, the notary suddenly left because he had to attend the funeral of the King of Romania. And that was not all: after a violent storm, there were several landslides in the region and the deal was finally burst.

“Then Louis’ health problems began,” Jane Andrews continues. Breathing problems and a heart valve were causing him trouble. The couple repeatedly advanced him money. Plagued by ever-increasing doubts, Andrews finally called a friend who knew Louis better. Bad news: his real name was not Louis, but Simon Welsh. Now it was only necessary to google the name to know who he really was.

"Such a good person!"
“He was a funny, likeable and convincing personality,” Paul Andrews points out. Although they sometimes had their doubts, they always believed him. “We felt very sorry for the family, especially since we had just lost a son.” Welsh exploited this fact emotionally and in cold blood. “We thought, what a good man! He wanted to do something for his children, whose mother had died,” Andrews adds bitterly. “The fact that our children knew and respected each other was crucial for us to trust him.”

Also, the fact that rich foreigners sometimes have to struggle with temporary liquidity problems is not unusual, Andrews says, because of the restrictive banking laws. “We believed until the end that he would buy a house, even after his true identity had been revealed,” he adds.

Lucrative hunting grounds
“Every few years such an individual comes to the Saanenland and plays this kind of game because the hunting grounds are lucrative,” confirms a friend of the Andrews, who was also scammed but does not wish to be named. “What Welsh has done in this region, he could not have done in London with the same ease, because the people here are trusting and good,” he emphasises.

30 months imprisonment for Welsh
In December, the Vevey regional court sentenced Welsh to 30 months in prison, less the 20 months he spent in pre-trial detention, and ten years expulsion for professional fraud. The 49-year-old Briton had already been convicted of similar offences in his home country. The sentence remained well below the six years the prosecutor had demanded. The accused benefited from the fact that certain offences had to be dropped due to lack of evidence and that only the frauds since 2016 could be assessed. According to the daily newspaper 24 heures, he was active for more than 10 years in the Saanenland, Pays-d’Enhaut and the Riviera, defrauding shops, banks, hotels, a private school and private individuals of services and cash worth almost CHF 2m.

Based on AvS/Martin Gurtner-Duperrex

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