The world's top ten dodgiest sellers

03 March 2012 By Lawyers Weekly

In honour of a certain Royal getting caught out this week trying to sell something she doesn't own, Folklaw decided to take a look at ten of the most audacious and bizarre attempts by…

In honour of a certain Royal getting caught out this week trying to sell something she doesn't own, Folklaw decided to take a look at ten of the most audacious and bizarre attempts by individuals to make a dodgy quick buck.

1. Selling Prince Andrew

Sarah Ferguson was caught by the British rag, News of the World in a classic sting where she was attempting to cash in on her Royal status.


The Duchess of York was captured on camera accepting cash as part of a £500,000 ($870,000) arrangement where she would grant a disguised businessman access to her former husband, Prince Andrew.

Fergie, who has previously stated that she and Andrew "are the happiest divorced couple in the world", had complained in 2009 about her allowance of £15,000 per year following her divorce, and is thought to be close to bankrupt.

The hatchet job by the News of the World on Fergie is the latest notch on its celebrity scandal belt, with previous memorable stings including a reporter posing as a fake oil sheikh in order to coax embarrassing admissions from the former England Football Manager, Sven-Goran Eriksson, just prior to the 2006 World Cup.

2. Hitler Diaries

In one of the great hoaxes of our time, a journalist and a forger teamed up to create the so called Hitler Diaries, which were released in 1983.

Lawyers Weekly Discover

Gerd Heidemann, a journalist with the West German News Magazine Stern, claimed to have received the diaries from a "Dr Fischer", who smuggled them out of East Germany.

Heidemann flogged the diaries to his own rag, Stern, for millions of German marks, with the Sunday Times in the UK and Newsweek in the USA also falling for the scam, and publishing excerpts.

Within weeks of publication, historians were casting doubt on the diaries authenticity, especially the fact they contained great chunks of previously published speeches from Hitler as well as historical inaccuracies.

Meanwhile, Heidemann was cashing in, purchasing luxury sports cars, Spanish villas and expensive jewellery.

Heidemann's story quickly unravelled, with the diaries found to have later been written by Konrad Kujau, a Stuttgart forger.

Both Heidemann and Kujau were trialled and sentenced to 42 months imprisonment for forgery and embezzlement.

The diaries left a trail of destruction for those involved, with the editors of the Stern, the Sunday Times and Newsweek all resigning, and the reputations of historians who had verified the diaries authenticity taking a serious battering.

3. Goering is conned

Sticking with the N*zi theme, Hermann Goering, commander of the Nazi Luftwaffe during World War Two, was the unwitting victim of a Dutch art forger.

Goering enjoyed souveniring expensive artworks as the N*zis cut a swathe through Europe, and came into possession of a falsified Johannes Vermeer painting (one of the Dutch masters from the 17th Century). The painting was copied by a struggling Dutch painter, Henricus Antonius van Meegeren.

During WW2, several wealthy Dutch art collectors purchased van Meegeren's forgeries and hid the originals - in an attempt to dupe the N*zis.

The falsified Vermeer was discovered in Germany after the war, and van Meegeren was charged with being a collaborator - a crime punishable by death. In protesting his innocence he admitted to forgery, and received the far more palatable sentence of one year in prison. However, he died of a heart attack before starting his sentence.

Of course, art forgeries have been around for as long as art itself.

In May this year, Los Angeles woman Tatiana Khan pleaded guilty to selling a fake Picasso painting. She was accused of selling a forged copy of the Spanish master's 1902 painting La Femme au Chapeau Bleu for US $2 million - a tidy profit after Khan admitted paying a forger $1000 to make a copy.

4. Nick Leeson

The "rogue trader" wrote himself into infamy or folklore, depending on your viewpoint, when he almost single-handedly brought down Barings Bank, Britain's oldest merchant bank, after losing almost US$1.4 billion in fraudulent bond trades in Singapore in the early to mid 1990's.

This figure was twice Barings available trading capital and resulted in the bank being declared insolvent.

After moving to Singapore in 1992, Leeson soon became the head trader and general manager of Baring's Singapore office, with no one in senior management querying the apparent conflict of interest - a conflict which made it easier for Leeson to cover his tracks.

Just before his fraud was discovered in 1995, Leeson fled Singapore with a note that said "I'm sorry".

He was later arrested and charged with fraud, spending almost four years in Changi Prison.

Upon his release he moved to Ireland and became CEO of Galway United Football Club.

5. Steve Vizard

If you thought there would be no Australian lawyers on the list, you might be disappointed

Steve Vizard was a Melbourne-based commercial lawyer in the first half of the 1980's, before becoming one of Australia's most well known comedians and entertainers over the second half of that decade and into the 1990's.

He later became a Telstra director, and admitted that while holding this position, he committed three breaches of corporations law by improperly gaining information in relation to share trades.

He was fined $390,000 and banned from holding any corporate directorships for 10 years.

He recently made a comeback of sorts in the media world, by stepping in for Eddie McGuire on his breakfast radio show with Triple M in Melbourne when McGuire went to Vancouver to cover the Winter Olympics.

6. Charles Ponzi

This Italian immigrant to the United States has been immortalised forever by the term "Ponzi Scheme" being applied to a variety of dodgy money making schemes ever since he patented the original in the early 20th Century.

Just after the conclusion of World War One, Ponzi realised that he could buy foreign postal reply coupons at a massively devalued price, and then resell them in the USA at a 400 per cent profit. Ponzi then began to canvass friends to invest in his scheme, offering inflated rates of returns over a short time period.

Ponzi was living the good life, knowing that as long as he had money coming in, he could keep his ever growing list of disgruntled investors at bay, even though his whole scheme was on the brink of collapse.

However, some bad press soon alerted the authorities and Ponzi was arrested with massive debts and a long list of creditors who lost every penny.

He was charged with 86 counts of mail fraud, and after being released from prison he returned to Italy where he died penniless in 1949.

7. Bernie Madoff

The most high profile recent perpetrator of the Ponzi Scheme was the American investment manager Bernie Madoff.

Madoff created a hedge fund, Ascot Partners, a fund that attracted investors from around the globe including hospitals and religious groups. When his fraud was discovered in 2008, he had lost over US$50 billion of other people's money.

Madoff created the illusion that his scheme was making a profit, and even paid out returns to investors on occasions. The reality was that he was falsifying stock records, and these so called profits were worth nothing more than the paper they were written on.

He was arrested in 2008 and in March 2009 he was sentenced to 150 years in prison.

Just this week 700,000 people who lost money after European banks invested in the scheme received compensation totalling €15.5bn

8. Peter Popoff

History is littered with evangelical preachers who didn't always follow what they preached, but in the case of Popoff, his claims that he received messages from God were exposed as merely being messages from his wife.

Popoff was a well known "faith healer" in the United States in the 1980's, taking his evangelical roadshow across the country. Members of his travelling congregations were invited to join Popoff on stage, where he would accurately state personal information and specific illnesses of participants. Popoff would tell his flock these were "messages from God".

However, in reality, it was Popoff's wife, Elizabeth, who was standing in for God.

Elizabeth and her aides would speak to audience members before her husband would take the stage, and find out the personal details of a select few.

During her husband's shows, she would relay this information to him from an area backstage, with Peter receiving the information via an ear-piece that he would have attached, which was concealed from the audience.

Popoff's exposure as a charlatan drove the faithful away, and he was declared bankrupt in 1987. However, he has made a "comeback" in recent years, and has been spotted driving in a Porsche convertible.

9. Helen Demidenko

In 1994 a young author burst onto the literary scene with a powerful tale about the experiences of her Ukrainian family during the Holocaust of WW2.

The book, The Hand that Signed the Paper was written by Helen Demidenko, and after winning praise from critics around the country, it was awarded the prestigious Miles Franklin Award in 1995.

While the plaudits for her book were flowing, Demidenko was happy to talk to the press about how recorded interviews with her Ukrainian relatives provided the basis for her work.

However, it soon emerged that Helen Demidenko was, in fact, Helen Darville, and the book was based not on the account of relatives, but partly on the accounts of Ukrainian Holocaust survivors she had met previously.

The controversy put an end to Demidenko / Darville's literary career, but she later completed a bachelor of Civil Law Programme at the University of Oxford.

10. The Italian football team

With the World Cup around the corner, we all remember that Italy "won" the World Cup after they stole their second round match with Australia following the awarding of a dubious penalty in the last minute.

Therefore, Italy's trophy was stolen from its rightful owners, the Socceroos, and they have had no right to call themselves "world champions" over the last four years. Lets hope this year's World Cup brings better luck to the Roos.

The world's top ten dodgiest sellers
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