Fugitive donor begins jail sentence

Michael Brown, who gave the Liberal Democrats £2.4m, was told he would begin serving his sentence immediately

The Liberal Democrats’ most generous ever donor, who has evaded justice for nearly four years, was finally brought before a British court and jailed for seven years.

Michael Brown, one of Britain’s most wanted confidence tricksters, who gave the party £2.4m, was told by Justice Alistair McCreath at Southwark Crown Court he would begin serving his sentence immediately.

He was found guilty in his absence in 2008 for theft, furnishing false information and perverting the course of justice after being accused of perpetrating a £36m fraud. Months before his conviction, he had disappeared to the Caribbean.

Brown’s high-profile return to custody may prove to be an embarrassment for the deputy prime minister and Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, who has refused to repay the donation, which came exclusively from stolen funds. One of Brown’s victims has threatened to recommence legal proceedings against the Lib Dems on Brown’s return in an effort to retrieve his money.

Brown, 46, wearing a grey baggy jumper and jeans, spoke only to confirm his name. With short greying hair and a goatee, he appeared considerably thinner than before his disappearance.

The Lib Dems accepted Brown’s donation in 2005 despite the fact that he was not a party member, was not registered to vote, and lived abroad. He dined with party grandees and flew the party’s then leader Charles Kennedy around Britain in a private jet.

Brown had convinced a number of high-profile business people that he was a successful investor with connections to Prince Andrew and the US secret services. In fact, he was the son of a whisky executive who had few qualifications and was wanted for cheque fraud in Florida.

The high court was later told that Brown’s company was wholly fraudulent and that the money was given to the Lib Dems only so that he could convince his victims that he was a legitimate, well-connected businessman. One of his victims was Martin Edwards, the former Manchester United chairman, who handed over $10m.

After changing his name and appearance, Brown went on the run from his Hampstead home in July 2008. The Guardian disclosed last year that he was hiding in in the exclusive resort of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, where he was still posing as a businessman while defrauding investors.

Under the name of Darren Nally, he was living in the exclusive resort of Punta Cana with his dog Charlie – named after the former Lib Dem leader.

Brown was arrested in January after failing to pay a bill in Punta Cana and spent weeks in a Dominican jail. Sources said that Brown asked the Dominican authorities to deport him after fearing for his safety. He was then flown to Spain. Brown flew into Britain on Monday on an Easyjet flight from Madrid, accompanied by two City of London detectives. He was said to be pleased to have returned to the UK.

Clegg said yesterday: “I’m pleased he’s coming back to serve his sentence. This is a convicted fraudster.”

An Electoral Commission inquiry in 2009 found that the Lib Dems accepted the fraudster’s donation in good faith and cleared them of wrongdoing, but the inquiry has been criticised for failing to interview Reg Clark, the party’s treasurer, who warned Kennedy’s office that Brown could not be trusted.

Brown had been expected to be separately sentenced by the court for failing to surrender to custody. Eleanor Sanderson, defending, expressed concern about the terms of the European arrest warrant that was used to bring him back. Judge McCreath ordered that Brown return on May 21 to resolve the matter.

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