Five buy-to-let cheats have pleaded guilty to defrauding property investors of an estimated £80m in a Ponzi-style scheme.

The former directors of three Gateshead-based property companies used their victims' money to fund a lavish lifestyle in a scam that the Serious Fraud Office described as “simply staggering”.

The five spent £500,000 on a fleet of luxury cars, including Aston Martins, Bentleys and a 1960s Mark II Jaguar - known as the “Inspector Morse car”. A further £250,000 was spent on racehorses, £300,000 on arts and antiques and £200,000 on clothing. In one example of excessive company spending that the SFO described as 'completely disproportionate' to the size of their business, the directors hosted a £500,000 Christmas party for 100 staff, where a £100,000 villa in Spain was given away in a prize draw.

The Times (Sat)