Two men, one from Suffolk, duped investors out of an estimated £1 million, a court heard.
One of them, Joseph Hopewell, bought Newmans Hall in Little Waldingfield – an 850,000 house set in 12 acres with a swimming pool.
His wife Jannat, said to be an African princess, went on shopping sprees in London, Paris, New York and Barcelona, Norwich Crown Court heard on Friday.
Hopewell (51), now of 10 Judson Avenue, Manchester, was jailed for six years. He admitted carrying on an investment business when not authorised between January 2000 and November 2001, and that, with his consent, documents said to be receipts for deposits were issued by the company, Merchant Barncorp Credit Commerce Ltd, to people that had invested in the company.
He also admitted stealing 200,000 from the company, stealing a credit transfer for more than 100,000 by deception and two offences of fraudulent trading.
Also in the dock was Malcolm Mascarenas (71) of Multon Lea, Chelmsford, who was jailed for five years. He admitted two offences of theft, three offences of obtaining a total of 800,000 by deception, and carrying on an investment business when not authorised. Both men were banned from taking part in running businesses for eight years.
Mascarenas had held a franchise for Allied Dunbar for years but persuaded his customers to remove their investments from Dunbar to Merchant Barncorp Credit Commerce Ltd – which he claimed had the backing of an American bank paying out 9.5 to 10 per cent interest yearly.
The court heard Hopewell, a Nigerian, had claimed to be a doctor and a diplomat. He used expensive cars driven by a 20,000-a-year chauffeur – but at the time he and his wife were squandering funds meant for an airline project.
It was planned to set up a business known as Zircon Airways Corporation Ltd with flights to and from Benin in Africa. The idea was for crops to be grown to provide work. They would be distributed throughout Europe and the new airline would be cheaper than using established airlines.
Judge Paul Downes told the two men: "This is a dreadful story of fraud on people who relied on their savings … you, Hopewell, and your wife, lived a high life."
Both men were of previous good character.
Sonia Woodley QC, for Mascarenas, said he met Hopewell in Colchester. Hopewell told Mascarenas he wanted to do something for the poor in Africa. His family owned land in Benin and crops would be produced and then distributed. She said Mascarenas had now lost his life savings of 560,000.
Colin Nicholls QC for Hopewell said there was no evidence that he set out to defraud investors.