So we were wondering, how are things with Silva Tree, the forestry scam of Patrick Visser et al? Visser himself has virtually disappeared from the web. His blog at patrick-visser.com couldn't be accessed (update: is back online). The Silva Tree website has no principals listed and they only take investors through intermediaries - a trick to avoid oversight by the Financial Services Authority (FSA). The criminal case they started against us for libel and slander appears not to have gone anywhere at all. Are they dead?
We did a little bit of searching and we found a couple of interesting things. First, Visser is a director of yet another Panama outfit, together with Keren Katz and Maurice Sjerps: Sustainable Capital Group Energy S.A. Upon closer look, however, this company is the SAME as former Silva Tree Energy S.A., which simply changed its name. Similarly, Silva Tree Panama S.A. was renamed into Sustainable Capital Group Panama S.A. Here are the records of the name changes in the Public Registry. We suppose the "Silva Tree" brand is getting a little too hot to handle?
Then, we stumbled upon a report by several European NGO's, paid for by the European Union, titled "The Vultures of Land Grabbing" (pdf download here). The paper explores the need to reform a financial system in which private equity firms grab large swathes of land in the developing world for monoculture plantations of crops the first world needs.
“Land grabs” have not gone unnoticed—they have produced widespread media coverage and concern from civil society, researchers, and environmentalists, who fear that private land investments will increase monoculture- based, export-oriented agriculture, arguably jeopardizing international food security. United Nations agencies and governments have raised concern as well. The Director- General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Jacques Diouf, expressed apprehension over the potential effects of swift land deals on political stability in “host” countries, while European Union officials have stated that some land deals are exploiting poor nations.
And guess what, Silva Tree is extensively featured in this report as an example of land grabbing and scamming vultures you probably wouldn't want to do business with:
A surprising number of financial vehicles involved in land grabbing boast a commitment to sustainability, socially responsible investing and ethical financing. Sometimes they refer to alleged partnerships with renowned international NGO’s or environmental groups. The case of Sterling Knight Consultants Ltd, London is particularly interesting. The company seems to be connected to Emerald Knight “Ethical Investments” and Silva Tree Panama SA, a firm that presents itself as “an environmental project developer with humanitarian, biodiversity and environmental benefits”. Neither Emerald Knight nor Silva Tree are known to be members of European social investments forums or environmental coalitions.
Then, the report establishes a number of links and ties between Silva Tree and a bunch of boiler room investment pumpers:
Silva Tree presents itself as “an environmental project developer with humanitarian, biodiversity and environmental benefits at the core of every venture. Tackling issues such as climate change, developing world poverty and renewable energy, Silva Tree seek to show that helping the planet and making money can go hand in hand” (see the company’s website). We checked Maurice Reinier Sjerps and we discovered that he is owner of a Dutch company called Trop-Eco 14, which is allegedly committed to “sustainable forestry”. Trop-Eco Duurzame Bosbouw B.V. is actually not active anymore. A check on the Dutch company registry confirmed that Trop-Eco has been dissolved. The company’s website reports that TROP-ECO “develops projects for the WWF, for B.A.U.M., (a large German environmental organization), for I.N.E.M. and for A.U.G.E”. It adds that “TROP-ECO also has under negotiation a contribution to environmentally and ecologically focused projects for the ING Bank in Amsterdam and in Frankfurt, the Generale Bank in Brussels, the Deutsche Bank in Amsterdam and Victoria Versicherungen (insurance company) in Düsseldorf. 15” The Emerald Knight’s website leads also to a company called Fair Deal Investments, that does feature Sterling Knight Consultants Ltd as well – as a company based in Marbella. 16 Fair Deal Investments Ltd UK is also dissolved and its director has been Wito Schouten. Wito Schouten, who also promotes himself as “Marketing Director” of Sterling Knight 17, a company that advises on “socially responsible investments” 18 , reports to have been web developer of Cohen Green Advisory 19, a company present in the black list of the FSA (Financial Services Authority) 20 because it was “involved in ‘boiler room’ activities and pose a high degree of risk to consumers”.
The report also links Silva Tree to an outfit called Aston LLoyd, which appears to have its own set of troubles selling unregistered investments and ripping off its customers. That would be consistent with Silva Tree's misrepresentations about being an "approved carbon offset" project (they're not) and "guaranteed" return on investment.
The full report is available as a pdf download, here.