'Heiress' dupes HBOS in £13m mortgage fraud

'Heiress' dupes HBOS in £13m mortgage fraud


Britain’s “most prolific female fraudster”, who was aided by a crooked RICS surveyor, has been jailed for nine years after conning banks out of £13 million.

Maria Michaela, 33, was sentenced at Harrow Crown Court on

Friday having admitted to using a false identity to acquire eight fraudulent loans, a police press release stated.


A City of London Police investigation revealed how Michaela presented herself to lenders as Joanne Pier, the heiress to a South African business fortune whose grandfather had founded the leisure complex Sun City.


The Mail Online wrote about Michaela’s mask of deception and how she had used 12 different identities to rip off banks in the elaborate scam. She posed as the heiress of Sun City, worth £250m, and used fake documents to con her way to a fortune.


Between August 2007 and April 2008 she persuaded HBOS to give her four separate loans worth £10.5 million to buy eight properties in the London area.


Around the same time the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) was approached by a Joanne Pier asking to refinance assets from her family trust and into her own name due to problems with her father.


The bank agreed to forward a series of loans to her totalling £2.5 million. As with HBOS, the loans were defaulted and much of the money advanced was lost.


To support Michaela’s application the bank were handed false valuations by a property surveyor who had been bribed by the fraudster with cars and gifts.


Mary-Jane Rathie, 44, used non-existent corporate tenancy agreements as the basis for doubling the market price for five of the properties. In exchange Rathie, a chartered surveyor with Ashdown Lyons, was handed more than a £1.1 million in money and gifts, including a Bentley Continental and a Range Rover Sport.


Michaela amassed a number of luxury properties using the £13.5 million she had conned out of HBOS and RBS. The properties were in some of the most expensive districts of London, including a £3.5 million home in Chelsea and a mews property in Belgravia, close to Buckingham Palace.


At this point the alias Joanne Pier was changed to Zoe Fletcher, and in late 2008 Michaela approached RBS for a second time through a contact of Rathie in an attempt to fraudulently refinance properties.


At the first meeting she was introduced to an employee she had met when securing the first batch of loans from the bank. He identified her as Joanne Pier and referred her reappearance to the bank’s internal investigation unit, who in turn reported it to City of London Police, though by this point Michaela had defaulted on her mortgage payments and disappeared.


A long-running search for Michaela, which included a Crimewatch campaign and national newspaper appeals, ended in January when investigating officers tracked her down to a mortgage brokers in Blackheath, where she had been working under the name of Mia Kul.


She was arrested and a search of her Deptford flat uncovered a number of different disguises.


Maria Michaela was sentenced after pleading guilty to two counts of fraud by false representation.


Rathie, who is married to a Met policeman, was sentenced in June 2011 to six years in prison after being convicted of five counts of fraud and one count of money laundering.


Detective Inspector Andy Fyfe, of the City of London Police said: “Maria Michaela created a web of deception that duped banks into handing over vast sums of money, and then perpetuated her crimes by assuming a new alias to try and secure more loans.


“False identities and a corrupt property surveyor were the tools she used to make millions, turning herself into one of the, if not

the, most prolific female fraudster the UK has ever seen.


“That she is now finally behind bars is a result of the City of London Police’s refusal to give up the search, and proves once again that fraudsters can run, they can hide, but ultimately they will face their day of reckoning.”


At last week’s sentencing of Maria Michaela, three accomplices were also jailed: Guy Steel was jailed for four years for money laundering and attempted robbery; Stephen Hunter-Scott was jailed for five years on three counts of conspiracy to defraud, two counts of conspiracy to money launder and possession of false ID; and Saba Humai was given a 12-month sentence suspended for two years for money laundering.



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    HBOS victim

    That bankers and their agents are not finally behind bars is a result of West Yorkshire Police’s failure to investigate, and proves once again that fraudsters can run, they can hide, but ultimately they will not face their day of reckoning for lies, harassment & assault in Huddersfield. Read more at www.huddshomes.com

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