Twenty investors poured nearly $176,000 into the Assetton investment company to buy high-quality French wine so they could sell it for a profit in the future.
They received certificates apparently from Grand Cru Storage attesting that their wines were safely stored at a facility in Bordeaux, France.
But it was all a sham, a district court heard on Thursday. The certificates were fake and in many cases, no wine had been purchased.
Mastermind Mohan Nainan Nainan, 55, was jailed for 11 months after he pleaded guilty on Thursday to abetting in the forgery of the certificates and misappropriating the $176,000.
He was the director and a shareholder of Assetton, a firm he had founded in December 2007 to sell French wines as investments.
In 2009, he accepted $6,532 from an investor to purchase 12 bottles of fine wine. He had convinced her that she would be able to make a profit in three to five years' time.
In January 2011, she instructed him to sell the wine. When she did not hear from him after six months, she checked with Grand Cru Storage and discovered that her bottles were not stored at its facility. Nainan had not bought the wine.
In another instance, he pocketed the payment for six bottles of Chateau La Mission Haut Brion 2000, six bottles of Chateau Lafite Rothschild 2000 and six bottles of Chateau Margaux 2000, which he sold for another investor. These wines were valued at more than $31,000.
Nainan also lied to the Registrar of Companies that his company's paid-up capital was $450,000. But the shareholders had not paid for the shares issued to them.
He was fined $7,000 for contravening the Companies Act.
Pleading for a lenient sentence, defence counsel Samuel Chacko, who represented Nainan pro bono, told the court that his client did not misappropriate the money for "personal enrichment" but to pay staff salaries and rent an office.
Deputy Public Prosecutor Muhamad Imaduddien pointed out that the sum embezzled was "significant" and no restitution had been offered.
His jail term was backdated to Jan 22, the date he was remanded. For forgery, he could have been jailed up to four years and fined up to $10,000.
Nainan could have been jailed for life and fined for the misappropriation offences, while contravening the Companies Act carries a fine of up to $50,000 and/or a jail term of up to two years.
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