THE owner of an art investment business which conned customers out of hundreds of thousands of pounds has been banned from acting as a company director.

Lee Swindells, from Orford, was placed onto the Companies House disqualified directors register by the UK Government’s Insolvency Service earlier this month.

This ban will last for a period of nine years.

It comes after his company, Wardells Design Limited, was wound up by the High Court last year.

The business came to the attention of the Insolvency Service during a previous probe into associated companies, including Gem Tobin Ltd – which was based on Warren Road in Orford before being wound up in 2019 over a £1million scam.

Investigators discovered that Wardells and Ipswich-based Camp Partners Limited received more than £600,000 in payments between March 2019 and February 2020 from people who believed that they were investing in works by renowned artists.

But, working as part of a multi-million pound scheme operated from Spain or Morocco, the companies ‘traded with a lack of commercial probity and transparency’.

The funds were removed from the bank accounts of the two enterprises, with the Insolvency Service unable to determine how they were spent.

Chief investigator David Hope previously said: “These companies were used as part of a cynical scam targeting members of the public, many of whom were elderly and vulnerable, and took more than £600,000 from them.

“There is no evidence that this investment had any value or is likely to generate any return for investors.

“The winding up of these companies following our investigation has put a stop to these activities and prevents them from causing any further harm.

“We would advise anyone considering an investment of this nature to exercise caution and take independent financial advice before doing so.”

And the Insolvency Service has now found that Swindells, of School Road, ‘demonstrated a lack of stewardship’ as the sole registered director of Wardells Design and ‘without adequate oversight or supervision allowed third parties to have unrestricted access to its banking facilities’.

The 50-year-old also ‘failed to ensure that Wardells Design maintained and preserved adequate accounting records’.

He was discovered to have set up three bank accounts which were handed into the control of third parties and subsequently received monies totalling £485,582 from the sale of artworks.

As a result, it has ‘not been possible to reconcile payments received from investors with the provision of artwork of any discernible value’.

The Insolvency Service was also not able to ‘identify and legitimate trading, business or identifiable value gained’ from customers’ investments due to the lack of records.