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Reuben Singh: Multi-Millionaire or Multi-Fraudulent?
Excerpts of an e-mail dated July 3, 2003 received from firstname.lastname@example.org: 'You may not be aware that the lawyers of Mr. Reuben Singh have already commenced legal proceedings against the Financial Mail as there are a number of grossly untrue facts, accusations, and deformation [sic] of character. The legal proceedings are continuing and therefore I would encourage you to remove this posting as soon as possible in order to prevent commencement of any further action. We would like to believe that your organisation has not been established to relay false, incorrect, and grossly defamatory information. I await your confirmation that the posting has been removed in order to ensure that no further action is taken by ourselves. We reserve our rights in this matter. Yours faithfully, Danielle Freedman, Board Executive, Corporate Communications.'
Financial Mail, Dec. 15, 2002
He has been championed as one of the most successful young entrepreneurs of his generation. He has been paraded by Tony Blair as a model of youthful commercial vigour. His apparent wealth and status have brought him expensive cars and designer clothes. His picture even hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. But Reuben Singh, who won a place in the Guinness Book of Records as Britain's Youngest Self-Made Millionaire when he was still in his teens, is exposed today as a charlatan. Still only 26, he has proved himself to be a brilliant self-publicist. But his business achievements are far more doubtful than he would have the world believe.
Only this month, Singh was short-listed in the Growing Business Awards, sponsored by a Government export body, Trade Partners U.K. Fortune magazine in America recently named Singh as Europe's richest entrepreneur under the age of 30, valuing him at more than £95m. The Sunday Times has dubbed him 'The British Bill Gates.' And even The Mail on Sunday's Rich Report in spring 2001 estimated he was worth more than £80m. Yet there is absolutely no evidence to support Blair's apparent faith in the selfstyled whizkid - except endless self-publicising press releases sent out by Singh himself. Singh has managed to convince the business establishment, the Blair administration and the world's financial press into believing he is a multi-millionaire. In reality, he is little more than a fantasist.
An investigation by Financial Mail has uncovered the truth about Singh. We show that he is not the successful millionaire he purports to be, but an abysmal failure with a raft of bust companies, broken promises, debts and a trail of angry creditors behind him. Yet a cursory examination of Singh's background should have set alarm bells ringing in Downing Street where, if Singh is to be believed, Blair has entertained him on numerous occasions. The Prime Minister has championed Singh and appointed him to numerous Government think tanks as being a hugely successful Asian entrepreneur. The Sikh businessman claims to meet Blair for breakfast once a month and to have dined with him at the Cafe Royal in London at an Eastern Eye Dinner held to celebrate the achievements of Asian entrepreneurs.
Singh now claims to be worth £85m. Other estimates put his value nearer £100m. The truth is considerably less impressive. Singh shot to prominence in 1999 when he sold his Miss Attitude chain of fashion shops. The price was widely reported as £55m. In fact, the chain was sold for just £1 with debts of more than £1m - and later went bust. At the time, Gary Klesch, the American financier who bought the chain, was sworn to secrecy about the deal. But he has now broken his silence. Klesch told Financial Mail: 'The business was an absolute shambles - and I mean a shambles. Singh is a supreme self-publicist and a very naive guy, not typical of the type of person that we do business with. We have a saying in America - all show, no go, and that sums up the guy completely.
'He had a very fancy Mercedes but it turned out it was leased by the company and not owned by him at all. In the end we had to have the car repossessed. He ran around saying that I paid £55m for Miss Attitude. Though at the time I knew that was a lie, I couldn't say anything. 'The deal was subject to a confidentiality clause so I couldn't say a word. But as he has abused the confidentiality clause, I feel I should tell the truth. If he denies that I bought his company for a pound, let him sue me for libel and a judge can decide who's right. The only reason I bought the company was for its High Street sites.' Another Singh venture - his health food business, Robson & Steinberg - fared little better. It went bust owing more than £250,000 after trading for less than a year. During that period Singh was the sole shareholder and the only director and R&S managed to rack up debts of £150,000 with Yorkshire bank alone.
And for a man who advises Blair about small businesses, Singh has a very lax attitude to paying his own debts. When R&S collapsed in Mar. last year there were 13 small business creditors among the 23 listed as being owed money. One small company - Ditone Labels - was owed more than £2,200 by R&S. A Ditone spokesman said: 'We produced some labels for snack products they were selling. They were first-time customers and we were never paid. There was always a new excuse. They said that the accounts department was in a different building. They didn't pay a penny and as far as we're concerned the money is still owing.' But Singh has moved on to bigger and better things and now claims to own and control what he calls the 'Reuben Singh Group of Companies.' This, he says, consists of 12 trading entities involved in currency trading, property, retail and construction.
Financial Mail has made extensive inquiries at Companies House and can find no evidence that any such corporate entity exists. Singh lists seven current directorships of U.K. companies, but out of those companies, five have never filed accounts and the two that have done so show net assets of only £1,000 and £100 respectively. None of the Singh companies has ever filed a profit-and-loss account so that the public can judge their financial health. His latest venture is, not surprisingly, an internet company called AllDayPA.com, which advertises itself as a 24 hour-a-day office facility providing secretarial and data storage services over the net. This venture lists offices in Salford Quays, Manchester, where it claims to employ 300 people at a call centre. But when we visited the offices last week, all we saw was a small two-storey office building in a modest unit with a storage area on the ground floor and several small offices on the first floor.
Despite Singh's claims that 300 people are employed, we managed to see only five. Extraordinarily enough, Singh claims that he will soon be employing more than 2,000 people at the venture. Earlier this year, Singh put out a statement saying that AllDayPA. com had signed a 'multi-million pound deal with mobile phone company T-Mobile.' Financial Mail asked T-Mobile about the deal. The company said: 'We do have a revenue-sharing agreement with him, but it's not a deal in the sense that we have invested money in AllDay.com. We give him phones and if his customers at AllDayPA.com use those phones, he gets some money.' Last year the Financial Times ran a report saying that an Arizona-based technology investment fund had invested £10.5m in AlldayPA.com for a ten% stake. There is no record of this investment at Companies House.
Despite this, the F.T. was able to interview the co-founder of the Phoenix Technology Fund, Ramash Ramatunga, who said at the time that the price he had paid looked 'market acceptable' six months previously 'but now looked high'. Financial Mail has been unable to locate Ramatunga or the Phoenix Technology Fund in Arizona. And it is not just in business that Singh likes to play fast and loose. According to Companies House records, Singh has three residences he gives as his home address. The first, a property in Beckton, east London, has never belonged to him, though he might have rented the property from owner William Disley. The second property, a flat in Finchley, north London, has an outstanding mortgage with NatWest Home Loans. Though Singh is shown as the owner of this property, the address he gives for himself is a burnt-out, boarded-up shop in Cheetham Hill Road, a tatty street in Manchester.
More intriguingly, Singh states that he can be contacted care of S.B.J. Finance. However, no such business exists at the address given. There is an S.B.J. Finance with headquarters in London, but it says it knows nothing of Singh and certainly does not operate from the address given by him. The third address he gives is for a house in Poynton, Cheshire, which according to Land Registry documents is owned by Sarabjeet Singh and Jasbir Singh - the names of Reuben's parents, according to his birth certificate. As recently as Oct. 22, there was a 'Caution' registered on the property in favour of Diners Club, the credit card company. This means that if the house is sold, the proceeds could be used to settle the outstanding debt with Diners Club. The card company refused to comment on the action apart from confirming that the caution had been obtained 'due to an outstanding debt from someone residing at the address'. Diners Club declined to say whether Reuben Singh owed the money.
Singh has the outward trappings of wealth, including a £250,000 canary yellow Bentley. But his real skill seems to be in generating huge amounts of publicity for himself and persuading Blair and his government that he is someone to be taken seriously. Financial Mail has tried repeatedly to speak to Singh, but without success. A spokeswoman for him refused to comment about either his relationship with the Prime Minister or his business activities. A spokesman in Blair's office said this weekend: 'The Prime Minister has met Mr. Singh on a number of occasions but he has never been a close confidant, or even a confidant to the Prime Minister. The most recent record we have of them meeting is Jan. 2000, though we cannot rule out that they have bumped into each other at other social occasions, or events since.'