ASIC, Financial Planning

Adviser sentenced to 12-year prison term

ASIC fraud Jayaweera Growth

A former Brisbane-based adviser has been sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment for stealing almost $6 million of his clients’ funds.

A former Brisbane-based financial adviser has been found guilty of fraud and sentenced to a 12-year prison term with a non-parole period of six years following an Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) investigation.

After a three-week trial, Ben Jayaweera, the director of Growth Plus Financial Group, was found guilty of six charges of dishonestly causing detriment to clients to the tune of about $5.9 million.

ASIC alleged Jayaweera persuaded a number of investors to transfer funds, including funds from their SMSFs, into an unregistered managed investment scheme known as the Australian Diversified Sector Income Fund (ADSIF).

The regulator also alleged Jayaweera invested some of his clients’ superannuation funds into ADSIF without their knowledge.

The former financial adviser convinced his clients ADSIF was a diversified fund with investments in cash, property and shares, as well as aquaculture and agriculture. In reality, the sole investment was an abalone farm in South Australia operated by entities under Jayaweera’s control.

The illegal activity took place between September 2013 and October 2015.

The abalone farm was later wound up by receivers, with the liquidator of Growth Plus advising there would be no returns available for ADSIF investors.

ASIC commissioner Danielle Press said: “The majority of Mr Jayaweera’s clients were near or at retirement age and suffered significant financial harm from Mr Jayaweera’s actions. Financial advisers are entrusted with other people’s money. ASIC takes breaches of trust very seriously.”

When delivering the sentence, Justice Deborah Richards said: “It was a calculated and callous scheme of dishonesty.”

She also noted Jayaweera’s illegal scheme had involved a high level of planning, sophistication and persistence, and the investors had been robbed of their retirement.

The legal action was handled by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

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