Thursday, 17 August 2017

Staggering towards inevitable death!

EWAN LAMB charts the continuing woes of SBC's waste treatment project

Members of the project team working to procure a £21 million waste treatment facility for the Scottish Borders were expressing concerns over delays, technology issues and problems with funding within weeks of a revised deal being signed to incorporate a form of incineration into the plant.

Readers who have been following our coverage of attempts to get behind the wall of secrecy surrounding the disastrous Easter Langlee venture will be aware that more than 80 additional documents have just been released by Scottish Borders Council on the orders of Scotland's information commissioner.

Now Not Just Sheep & Rugby is attempting to publish as much of the information as possible so that taxpayers who lost at least £2.4 million thanks to council incompetence and the contractor's inability to deliver the project can see the drain down which their money went.

Our last instalment covered the trials and tribulations of the venture during early 2013 when the pioneering research and development gasification and pyrolysis system earmarked for the Galashiels centre appeared to be misfiring on most if not all cylinders. The R&D kit had to be shut down and modified several times but was still refusing to behave.

We take up the story in early May as delays to the start (never mind the completion) of the urgently required facility were causing increasing concern at SBC.

In a letter to contractors New Earth Solutions (NES) a senior officer at the council wrote: "The ATT [Advanced Thermal Treatment] development work timetable has slipped and continues to slip and the delays to that development work do not appear to be being mitigated.

"It is concerning that there is a further delay in this process and that it appears inevitable that a further request for extension of time will require to be submitted to the Council”.

A key element for delivery of the project was the provision of a grid connection to the site at Easter Langlee. The papers show Scottish Power estimated the cost of the connection to be in excess of £1 million, and a £200,000 deposit was required before work commenced. But NES were refusing to pay the deposit.

A consultant who was also a project team member outlined his concerns in an email to others involved in the project. He wrote: "I am concerned that NES have still not paid the initial £200,000 deposit required to secure the connection, and their reasons for not doing so appear spurious.

" SPEN’s [Scottish Power Energy Networks] requirement for an upfront deposit of £200,000 is standard – they’ve asked for exactly the same deposit for another project in which I’m involved (where it has been paid).

" If it is paid, it will not compromise NES's ability to continue to negotiate with SPEN with regard to the costs and terms on which SPEN would undertake non-contestable works, or NES’s ability to secure alternative suppliers for contestable works. By not paying the deposit, NES are taking a wholly unnecessary gamble on the grid connection.

" Therefore there is little if any risk to NES in paying the deposit, but they are exposing the project to considerable potential risk by failing to pay it. This appears to be another example of NES’s penny-pinching and myopic approach to project implementation."

The same consultant (in the same email) expresses concerns over the funding of the job. NES's partner funder was New Earth Recycling and Renewables Fund (NERR). He states:
"The news that the Co-op Bank does not have funds available to complete the Avonmouth refinancing is not entirely surprising, but it is of concern:  It means that NERR will secure £20 million less in funding than anticipated in the last [monthly] report and funding update.

"It throws further doubt on NES’s confident prediction that 'we can introduce senior debt into the Eastern Langlee project from the outset if it is beneficial to do so'and therefore raises a question of whether they will have sufficient funding to complete the finance plan on time."

An email from SBC to NES dated April 2013 says: "The delay to the refinancing of Avonmouth, despite the continued NERR investment is worrying for SBC."

It goes on to ask the company: Who are the back-up debt providers; What is the predicted level of Subscriptions into NERR between May 2013 to March 2014 (Start of Construction) - What is the current level of available funding within NERR.

And: "Based on the events with Co-op Bank and the lack of certainty that refinancing will be complete by the start of the Easter Langlee project, we would like to see the quarterly financial updates increased to monthly."

NES's response was less than convincing. The firm told SBC: "Following the late withdrawal of the Co-op, we are presently in discussions with around a dozen other potential funders for the refinancing of the Avonmouth energy recovery facility (ERF).  

"Among the parties that we are talking to is the UK Green Investment Bank (GIB), who has shown a significant interest in being a co-funder to the project".

But in a terse riposte the council declared: "You have not answered the question.  The financing is a significant area of concern for SBC now that the Coop refinancing has fallen through.  NES are not providing sufficient information to alleviate these fears which is unsatisfactory."

The follow-up unspecific answer from New Earth did not go down well either.

To this SBC replied: "Again this is unacceptable. NES have to demonstrate that either SBC’s plant is a priority over Blaise [another NES project] or NERR can cope with parallel builds.  Just to highlight that as the Co-op refinancing fell through and NES were already committed to the next phase of the Avonmouth building, SBC have concerns that NERR are overstretched."

Does all of this point to a project proceeding with confidence and trust?


Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Was It Only An Excuse?

DOUG COLLIE on more escapees from the secrecy vaults at SBC

An examination of newly released confidential reports and emails shows there was a different negative issue bedevilling the £21 million Scottish Borders waste treatment project virtually every month during 2013 and 2014.

But despite failures and setbacks as engineers from New Earth Solutions attempted unsuccessfully to perfect the gasification and pyrolysis system to be installed in Galashiels, accompanied by an endless catalogue of obfuscation on the funding front, the doomed project was allowed to limp on into 2015 before being axed.

And as we will confirm later in a series of articles outlining the new disclosures, the completion of the Advanced Thermal Treatment (ATT) plant at Easter Langlee would be hit by a two year delay at the end of 2013. Yet Scottish Borders Council still continued with a fiasco that was to cost taxpayers at least £2.4 million.

As early as January 2013 - barely a month after the ATT contract variation was finalised - the regular report from contractors New Earth Solutions was bearing news of problematic issues which had been encountered the previous month. At this stage the so-called NEAT technology was being tested at Canford, Kent, but Borders councillors had already agreed to have it in Galashiels even though it did not work. Issues would still be dogging the project when it was abandoned over two years later.

According to the January 2013 All Reasonable Endeavours (ARE) report from New Earth: 

"From the week commencing 10th December a second endurance operation was planned. The operation was started on Sunday 9th December. When the plant reached temperature, the syn-gas was directed to the ceramic filter. Despite the modifications to the plant the syngas was below the optimum temperature range required by the filter. The trail was again cut short to enable other engineering solutions to be considered and evaluated."

The venture may well have been in its infancy, but proposals were already being touted for an ambitious District Heating System aimed at keeping hundreds of homes, industrial buildings and council properties warm in the area surrounding the rubbish-to-electricity facility. Surplus power generated by the NEAT system would be a real money spinner.

This is an extract from the February ARE report:

District Heating Scheme - New Earth is proposing to establish a shell company registered in Scotland – the Energy Supply Company (ESCo) - and wishes to discuss share ownership with SBC. The next workload on the district heating scheme after submission of the planning and PPC applications will be the commercial model and preparation for procurement of an ESCo partner.

No doubt considerable sums of public money were squandered on this white elephant too.

By April 2013 the emphasis had returned to technical and financial issues, as the newly released monthly ARE shows.

It says: "The first of two continuous 120 hour runs was planned to commence on 8 April 2013. In previous shorter trials, pressure drops had been noted across the ceramic filter. Investigation had shown that this was due to the build-up of char in the ceramic filter due to the char extraction screw not working as designed and the char being finer than anticipated. 

"Modifications were made to the screw, however it was again noted that the char was not being extracted correctly. The screw was consequently modified for a second time in week commencing 2 April 2013. Due to the delay in carrying out the first continuous 120 hour trial, it is anticipated that this task will be delayed by the same period of five days and should now commence on 29 April 2013."

The developments on funding were equally depressing. The £21 million needed to build Easter Langlee was dependent on [a] the re-financing of New Earth's Avonmouth Energy from Waste plant which was yet to produce its first kilowatt of power; and/or [b] the ability of Isle of Man based New Earth Recycling & Renewables Fund (NERR) to provide the lion's share of the cash.

The April 2013 ARE report told SBC:

Funding and Financial Close

"The Avonmouth refinancing has been delayed until Q4 2013 owing to the intended funder, The Co-operative Bank plc (Co-op), having announced that it is unable to progress to Financial Close on the timescales that had been envisaged – i.e. within a month of first power generation, which would have meant Financial Close in Spring 2013. 

"This has come as a significant surprise and disappointment to New Earth. Co-op recently published weaker than expected 2012 financial results for their banking division; these results have restricted their UK lending capacity during Q2 and Q3 this year, although we note that Co-op is considering certain disposals within its broader business to raise additional capital. NERR will continue to finance the remainder of the Avonmouth energy recovery facility and whilst we remain positive over closing the transaction with Co-op later this year, we have commenced discussions with back-up debt providers. 

"Refinancing proceeds of £25m are envisaged in Q4 2013, of which circa £20m is expected to be returned to NERR with the remainder used to finance transaction costs and final retention sums.
Whilst it is disappointing that the refinancing of Avonmouth has been delayed, NERR remains the default funder for the Easter Langlee project and continues to accumulate funds as anticipated. We also remain confident that we can introduce senior debt into the Easter Langlee project from the outset if it is beneficial to do so."

This was just one of many setbacks in the bid to bankroll the Borders waste treatment facility.


Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Council fund targeted by claims firm


Financial advisers who steered unsuspecting investors into the worthless New Earth Recycling & Renewables [Infrastructure] fund (NERR) are potential targets for a No Win No Fee claims company offering to help people recover their lost cash..

Thousands of individuals have lost millions of pounds following the collapse of NERR, that Isle of Man fund which was supposed to finance a £21 million waste treatment facility for the Scottish Borders.

NERR also had a controlling interest in New Earth Solutions Group (NESG), the now bankrupt contractors handed a £80 million waste management contract by Borders councillors in 2011. The deal between Scottish Borders Council and NESG suffered a spectacular collapse in 2015 when it became clear the debt-ridden firm could not deliver the waste treatment project.

Now the Manx-based investment fund and its controllers Premier Group (Isle of Man) Ltd., also in liquidation, are the subject of investigations by financial regulators and insolvency experts.

Get Claims Advice Ltd. [GCA], the Manchester outfit offering to help out disgruntled NERR shareholders, appears to be following in the footsteps of firms which pursued claims on behalf of accident victims or those who were wrongly charged thousands of pounds by banks for PPI cover.

Although the initial assessment of a potential claim against financial advisers is free, clients who are successful will have to pay a 'Success Fee' amounting to 20 per cent + VAT of any settlement achieved on their behalf.

As Not Just Sheep & Rugby has reported previously, a significant number of NERR's former customers have won sizeable claims against advisers after lodging complaints (free of charge) with the Financial Services Ombudsman. Successful cases are well documented on the Ombudsman's website.

GCA's blurb promoting their NERR service claims creditors are owed £9 million, including SIPP investors "who thought the New Earth fund was a good bet to help them on their way to retirement".

'Should you have been advised to invest in New Earth Solutions in the first place?' asks the advertisement.. "The simple truth of the matter is New Earth as a recycling investment was always high risk: a non-standard asset not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority in the UK meaning the risk for UK investors could have been unsuitable'.

Scottish Borders Council please note!

GCA add: "Now the firm that was in charge of New Earth Solutions - Premier Group - is in liquidation too. If it looks as though you have a claim against your IFA we can pursue it for you on a No Win No fee basis, leaving you with nothing to lose".

Many of those who lost money as a result of the collapse of NERR may be tempted to enlist GCA's services. Unfortunately it seems the 20% commission (plus VAT) involved is even larger than the management and promotion fees collected by Premier Group's directors for running the worthless investment entity.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Easter Langlee documents released on Commissioner's orders


A collection of more than 80 reports and emails linked to the Scottish Borders Council waste management contract disaster have been released under Freedom of Information rules despite the local authority's best efforts to keep the documents from public view.

The latest disclosures, made after a ruling by acting Scottish Information Commissioner Margaret Keyse, provide strong evidence that the £80 million deal with contractors New Earth Solutions should have been ditched long before SBC dumped the firm in February 2015.

Details have emerged in this collection of files that NES notified the council in November 2013 of a two-year delay in the proposed construction of a £21 million facility at Easter Langlee, Galashiels, to treat and convert the region's household refuse into electricity.

A catalogue of hitches and hold-ups involving misfiring technology being developed for the Easter Langlee project in the south of England, and a list of excuses over the non-appearance of cash to bankroll the job from offshore funders have been laid bare.

Not Just Sheep & Rugby will be attempting to sort through the confidential files and publish relevant tracts in a series of articles over the coming days and weeks. It may help readers to better understand how a local authority managed to squander at least £2.4 million of other people's money pursuing an impossible dream of becoming Scotland's best at waste disposal and ending up close to the bottom of the rubbish recycling league.

Meanwhile council taxpayers across the Borders have yet to be told how landfill deadlines and other policies introduced by the Scottish Government to dramatically increase recycling targets can be implemented locally in the absence of a local strategy. The only decision taken by councillors since the failure of their New Earth venture has been to withdraw collections of garden refuse - hardly a vote winner or an aide to recycling.

Top brass at the council together with a clutch of expensive consultants commissioned in a bid to solve a waste treatment crisis were warning seven years ago that to 'do nothing' was not an option. But that is precisely what has happened up to now as the date for ending landfill looms ever larger.

Those who have kept up to speed with our revelations over the past two years will know that members of SBC were persuaded to radically vary the council's contract with New Earth in October 2012.

The so-called Deed of Variation (DoV) allowed for the inclusion of advanced thermal treatment (ATT) at Easter Langlee even though the so-called NEAT system of incineration had not been trialled and tested. The gamble would prove to be financially disastrous as the technology remained flawed while no-one was prepared to put up the money to install it in the Borders.

It is our intention to examine the new batch of evidence in chronological order, beginning in December 2012 - the month when the DoV between SBC and NES officials was signed.

According to a monthly report from NES in December 2012 there were issues with the fledgling technology system being developed at the company's research and development centre at Canford in the south of England.

That report states: "From the week commencing 12th November an endurance operation of 120 hours was planned. Unfortunately, when this operation started on Sunday 11th November it became apparent that there were technical issues that necessitated a shut-down of the plant.

"The plant was stripped down and investigations showed that where the plant had been shut-down on the previous run this had led to damage. Modifications to the plant were made to ensure that the syngas presented to the filter is at the correct temperature. This has caused a delay to the programme of approximately two weeks"

There were to be many similar negative results over the coming two years, as the files released last week show. In subsequent articles we will also demonstrate how different financiers for the multi-million pound Easter Langlee facility were being touted by New Earth on a month by month basis.

Potential bankers included The Co-op Bank, the Green Investment Bank, the Isle of Man based Premier New Earth Recycling & Renewables [Infrastructure] Fund (NERR), a New York fund and several other finance houses.

But there is not a shred of evidence that any of these parties, some of which had "shown great interest in the Scottish Borders project", according to the contractors, ever had any intention of bankrolling the Galashiels treatment centre.

In the wake of the catastrophe New Earth Solutions sank without trace, burdened by over £150 million worth of debt while NERR - the "funder of last resort" - is in the hands of liquidators. So far as the Easter Langlee contract is concerned the council looks pretty bankrupt too!

Little wonder those responsible for the fiasco at SBC repeatedly played the "commercially confidential" card in a bid to hide the evidence. Thankfully the country's information commissioner accepted there was widespread public interest in having the facts made public.


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

New Earth "survivors" chalk up more losses


The first set of financial results for five New Earth Solutions businesses since they were sold last year by administrators has revealed combined comprehensive losses of more than £25 million for the period up to July last year.

According to separate sets of accounts posted with Companies House, the quintet of firms now in the ownership of Irish-based Pandagreen have shareholder deficits running into many millions of pounds while two of the waste treatment plants transferred as part of the deal are currently closed.

Immediately after the takeover Pandagreen waived many millions of pounds of debt acquired via the purchase of the businesses rescued from the wreckage of the New Earth Solutions Group's (NESG) spectacular plunge into insolvency.

At the time of the crash in 2016 NESG owed some £150 million to banks.and other institutions together with a host of unsecured creditors. Those unprotected creditors recently received a dividend of 1.5 pence in the pound.

The New Earth group and another of its subsidiaries - New Earth Solutions (Scottish Borders) Ltd - , was the waste treatment 'specialist' handed a £80 million contract by elected members of Scottish Borders Council in 2011 in a bid to solve the area's refuse disposal issues.

However, the deal had to be abandoned four years later without any progress after it became clear the NES technology was useless and no-one was prepared to fund a £21 million treatment facility at Galashiels. By that time the project team assembled by the council had squandered over £2.4 million of public money, much of it on expensive firms of consultants and lawyers.

Here is a run down of the financial performance of the five entities which were purchased immediately after NESG was placed in the hands of administrators Duff & Phelphs in June 2016. The original buyer DM Opco Ltd later sold the business - all of them holding local authority waste disposal contracts - to Pandagreen.

NES Gloucestershire - Pandagreen waived all of the acquired debt of £1.526 million. In December 2016 a fire at the company's Sharpness facility resulted in its closure, and the directors are now considering options available with regards to its continued operation. Suffered a comprehensive loss of £897,000 during the latest accounting period. There is currently a shareholders' deficiency of £6.586 million.

NES Leicestershire - Suffered an operating loss of £5.957 million and a comprehensive loss of £8.024 million. New owners waived £5.062 million of acquired debt of £5.419 million. In March 2017 the firm's facility at Cotesbach was closed. Current shareholders' deficit £13.285 million.

NES West - Recorded an operating loss of £7.170 million and a comprehensive loss of £12.569 million. Pandagreen waived £12.592 million of the acquired debt of £14.732 million. The shareholders' deficit is stated as £26.212 million.

NES Canford - Sustained a comprehensive loss of £2.809 million. Its Irish owners waived £5.455 million of the acquired debt of £7.633 million following the deal with DM Opco. Shareholders' deficit is £4.806 million.

NES Kent - Made an operating profit, but a comprehensive loss of £1.775 million. Pandagreen waived £4.433 million of the acquired debt of £6.259 million. A shareholders' deficit of £9.327 million is recorded.

Each set of accounts contains the statement: "Under new ownership the directors are taking actions to enable the company to trade profitably going forward".

Friday, 4 August 2017

Premier fund liquidator liquidated!

EWAN LAMB reports on a potentially groundbreaking Manx court judgement

The provisional liquidator of a debt-ridden Isle of Man investment fund has been relieved of his duties by a judge who then replaced him with an insolvency practitioner nominated by a director of the Group which managed and promoted the bankrupt fund.

It is just the latest twist in the seemingly never ending saga of Premier Group (IOM) Ltd. (PGIOM), the offshore financiers picked out by Scottish Borders Council to bankroll a £21 million waste treatment facility via another of Premier's subsidiaries, New Earth Recycling & Renewables [Infrastructure] Ltd., now also penniless and in the liquidation process.

PGIOM itself has also gone bust while the fund at the centre of the latest controversy is the equally insolvent Eco Resources Fund (ERF) which persuaded investors to put their cash into bamboo plantations in faraway Nicaragua and South Africa.

While both funds were operational the directors of PGIOM, which controlled them collected generous management and promotional fees running into many millions of pounds. The Premier bosses included John Bourbon, a former head of the financial regulatory authority on the Isle of Man.

Last year the current Financial Services Authority (FSA) appointed Gordon Wilson, of CW Consulting, as the controller, then provisional liquidator of ERF which has around 190 investors and was valued at $61 million. It was later revealed that ERF had only £12,000 in the kitty while carrying debts of £2.7 million.

Mr Wilson, in an interim report, raised concerns on a number of fronts and suggested ERF should be dissolved as quickly as possible. He applied to the High Court on the Isle of Man for an order confirming who should be liquidator and deemed official receiver of Eco.

In a witness statement in support of his application, Mr Wilson said: ": "In my opinion, as can be seen from the evidence and the concerns that I set out in my Interim Report there are a number of matters that need to be addressed. It is imperative to objectively get to the bottom of what has happened. 

"I consider that I am best placed to do this and I have the support of the FSA who brought the Claim to wind up [Eco]. I have been involved with [Eco] since June 2016 as Adviser, Controller and Provisional Liquidator and I am in a position to move forward with the liquidation."

But in a separate application Mr Bourbon, who is described as a creditor of Eco, sought the appointment of Mr Michael Simpson of PricewaterhouseCoopers as liquidator.

Mr Bourbon alleged that  Mr Wilson's involvement with Eco had led to a deterioration of Eco's position and would continue to do so and the prospect of any meaningful recovery for Eco's members would almost certainly be lost if Mr Wilson continued to be involved.

Mr Simpson had the benefit of greater resources and capability at his disposal; the overwhelming majority of Eco's creditors and 100% of those members with voting powers were against the appointment of Mr Wilson as liquidator and would welcome the appointment of Mr Simpson.

Counsel for Mr Wilson warned the court that the "rescue package", which appeared central to the application of Mr Bourbon was virtually identical to that which was on the table in 2016 when Mr Wilson stood down as controller of Eco but remained as adviser. 

There were continuing concerns over the involvement of Sustainable Asset Lending Limited ("SAL") - an American finance company involved with the operators of the bamboo plantations - and there was a significant conflict for those making the application (in particular Mr Bourbon) to appoint Mr Simpson and those supporting him.

Mr Wilson had the full backing of the FSA. Their counsel told Deemster David Doyle (the judge) "The FSA continues to have confidence in Mr Wilson's capabilities and his ability to wind up Eco; The evidence has failed to explain how there would be a return for investors by a possible refinancing. The FSA shares Mr Wilson's concerns in respect of the proposed refinancing both in terms of its credibility and also the extent to which it will benefit investors rather than those behind SAL".

Chiva Arthurs, the lawyer representing Mr Bourbon called for Mr Simpson's appointment as liquidator. She said: "The interests of the investors should be considered and a liquidator should consider all options. SAL (the entity which has foreclosed on the plantation companies) is not prepared to deal with any entity associated with Mr Wilson.

"Mr Simpson will have the co-operation of and an untarnished relationship with Troy Wiseman [founder of EcoPlanet Bamboo, the plantation operators] and will have the option of a restructuring or refinancing exercise and creditors could be paid off immediately. A speedy liquidation, as envisaged by the FSA, would mean that the Isle of Man would find itself the focus of a failed investment scheme which would do little for its reputation."

Of course readers should remember that Premier's NERR fund can only be regarded as a "failed investment scheme" with more than 3,250 'shareholders' plus Scottish Borders Council ending up as losers after liquidators Deloitte confirmed there would be no return for NERR's creditors.

Ms Arthurs made a number of claims regarding Mr Wilson's involvement with Eco before stating:"Mr Wilson has aligned himself too closely with the FSA and the FSA's approach to the liquidation and he shares the FSA's lack of appetite to consider, with an open mind, any refinancing/restructuring proposals which may benefit creditors and investors; Mr Simpson has no previous involvement in Eco and will start from a blank canvas".

Deemster Doyle then issued an order that Mr Simpson and not Mr Wilson should be confirmed as liquidator of Eco.

The judge said: "I am concerned over Mr Wilson's previous dealings with, and experience of, Eco and those associated with it such as Mr Bourbon and Mr Wiseman.

Mr Wilson plainly has some significant "baggage" in respect of his previous dealings with the FSA in respect of Eco and those connected with Eco. . I am not persuaded that the appointment of Mr Simpson will incur unnecessary additional costs or unjustifiable further delay."

According to the Deemster the fact that Mr Simpson was Mr Bourbon's choice did not lead the judge to conclude it was inappropriate to appoint Mr Simpson. He was not persuaded that there was a reasonable perception of bias in respect of Mr Simpson."There is no suggestion that Mr Simpson will simply be Mr Bourbon's puppet."

And Deemster Doyle concluded: "It may well be that the liquidator will conclude that it is not realistic to proceed by way of restructuring/refinancing and that the liquidation should be concluded swiftly, but these are essentially matters for the liquidator. The conduct of a liquidation (even a liquidation in the public interest) is not a matter for the FSA, it is a matter for the liquidator.

"He who pays the piper does not call the tune in liquidations, including public interest liquidations. Mr Simpson is an extremely experienced liquidator and I am sure he will waste little time and costs in reacting speedily and robustly if he thinks the offers of assistance are not credible or worth proceeding with." 

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Hotbed of financial shenanigans!


The number of investigations into alleged financial crimes, money laundering and even the bankrolling of terrorism on the tiny Isle of Man - the offshore haven where Scottish Borders Council selected a worthless investment fund to pay for a £21 million waste treatment facility - is at an all time high, with police and other agencies stretched to breaking point.

Not Just Sheep & Rugby has had reason to pay close attention to events on the island during the last two years following the spectacular collapse of the 24-year contract between the Borders local authority, the now bankrupt New Earth Solutions Group and the equally 'bust' Manx-based New Earth Recycling & Renewables [Infrastructure] fund (NERR).

As our readers know the NERR fund - chosen by SBC councillors to finance their waste management solution at Easter Langlee, Galashiels - is the subject of investigations by liquidators Deloitte. Several other investment funds in NERR's stable, overseen by the penniless Premier Group Isle of Man Ltd, are being examined by various insolvency experts on the orders of the Manx financial services authority.

The sheer scale of the potential for financial wrongdoing has been outlined in the annual report from Gary Roberts, chief constable of the Isle of Man which has 236 officers and back-up staff, and a budget of £12 million.

According to Mr Roberts: "Levels of demand in respect of financial crime are the greatest that the constabulary has known. A series of serious and complex frauds, as well as several high profile and particularly complicated money laundering cases, continue to challenge the constabulary's capacity and capability.

"Indeed, for most of the time demand outstripped supply in terms of investigative capacity. The constabulary has around 70 people permanently dedicated to investigating crime, a little over 20% of whom are allocated to financial crime matters. I could easily allocate all 70 to financial crime investigations and still not be able to meet all of my obligations".

On the other hand, recent disclosures of information by Scottish Borders Council has confirmed the authority was completely unaware that complaints concerning the Premier Group and its collection of investment funds had been lodged with Manx police and other authorities long before the Easter Langlee deal was signed.

The council apparently did not know or realise the managing shareholder of the NERR fund was an outfit based in the British Virgin Islands revelling in the name Premier Group Distribution Inc. [PGDI] and registered in the local offices of Mossack Fonseca of 'Panama Papers' fame.

We have also found evidence that warnings were being sounded concerning the claims made about the NERR fund as far back as 2008, fully three years before the SBC/New Earth contract was finalised. Potential investors were told to "be aware" before putting any of their money into NERR.

The disappearance of millions of pounds from the fund was a prime reason for the failure of the Borders project, yet none of the authorities capable of investigating the loss of £2.4 million of public money have lifted a finger.

Mr Roberts' concerns over financial crime appear to conflict with the views of alleged victims of Premier Group who had been campaigning for years in a bid to have their complaints taken seriously.

Reports prepared for members of the Manx Parliament claim at least three officers, including the chief constable, were provided with documents in support of allegations that Premier was "obtaining bank transfers by fraud".

The constabulary is said to have chosen not to investigate the claims on the grounds that Premier's activities had been conducted outwith the IoM legal jurisdiction.

In recent weeks John Bourbon, an ex-director of Premier Group and a former head of the Isle of Man regulatory authority has described the attention now being given to the company's funds as "a witch hunt".