Cornwall

Crown Currency Exchange director 'was incompetent'

Peter Benstead
Image caption Collapsed currency firm boss Peter Benstead was "honest" but "incompetent", a court heard

A businessman accused of heading a £20m currency fraud has told a court he may be incompetent but not dishonest.

Peter Benstead, 72, denies 10 counts relating to the Crown Currency Exchange business, which left more than 12,000 customers out of pocket.

Southwark Crown Court heard he had no real knowledge of the foreign exchange market and repeatedly speculated with customers' investments.

Mr Benstead and five co-defendants deny all charges.

The court heard Mr Benstead, from Penzance in Cornwall, lived a luxury lifestyle including annual cruises, desirable properties and five-star hotel stays.

But David Etherington, defending Mr Benstead, denied any criminal activity on his client's part.

Outlining the case for the defence, he said it was possible to be "both incompetent and honest".

'Black hole'

Established in 2004 and based in Hayle, Cornwall, Crown Currency enabled individuals and business customers to pre-order foreign exchange at a set price, up to a year in advance.

Co-accused former director Edward James, 75, a former mayor of Glastonbury, had "nothing to gain" from any deception, his counsel Jonathan Turner said.

The court heard former accountant Stephen Matthews accepted he was "asked to hide a black hole" in company accounts but did not think he was doing anything dishonest.

Mr Benstead's son-in-law Roderick Schmidt, 45, was described by his defence counsel as "a puppet for Peter Benstead".

Mr Benstead's wife Susan, 69, said she had no reason to suspect the money her husband used to buy their £900,000 home in West Cornwall was illegally funded by Crown customers' investments.

Son Julian Benstead, 45, denied any involvement in the theft of 11.3kg of gold.

The court heard Julian Benstead ordered 20kg to fulfil clients' orders, but the majority went missing and has not been seen since the companies folded in October 2010.

The trial, which is expected to last at least 11 weeks, continues.

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