Now that we have to go to court because of that wacko Patrick Visser and his accomplices in the Silva Tree/Sustainable Capital Group Paulowna tree planting carbon nonsense, we might as well entertain you, dear readers, with a bit of inside info from Patrick Visser's company.
We were contacted by a former employee of him, who left Silva Tree in disgust. Here's what he initially wrote us:
I worked for Visser for a very short while for Silva Tree UK but left when i realised it wasn't legit.
If you're interested i can tell you a bit about Silva Tree and provide proof the investment was a scam. I worked out pretty quickly that according to information on the WPI website the trees wouldn't grow at the site - to which Visser became very agitated when questioned. Also i know how much money is taken out by agents, salesmen and managers from each investment before the funds are then used to fund Visser's extravagant lifestyle and that of his partner (the forestry guy in Panama). Put it this way there is no way the investment could ever work out after that!
Of course we wanted to hear more, and more we got. Here's the story of this employee:
Okay, where to start?! I worked for Visser in 2010 at the Silva Tree UK office in Kings Cross, as i mentioned i didn't stay long as we didn't get on as i soon began to have doubts about the validity of the investment on offer. I actually spoke to the girl from the Christian Science monitor on the phone and relayed information which Visser had himself given me stating that the project was verified as a carbon credits project. When i started i did some research/due diligence on the investment so i was prepared to answer investors questions. I soon found something on the World Paulownia Institute's website that claimed the tree would not grow at a certain height above sea level, this immediately rang alarm bells as i'd been told the planting site was above this level and was therefore safe from flooding. When i questioned Visser on this he became really angry and aggressive (as he often did), he conceded that they had made a mistake but didn't care because investors were leasing the land and it was their money not his and i said i should shut up and make some money!
The set up of the office also immediately caused me concern as it was just like a boiler room that i'd had described to me by former colleagues in the past, despite numerous requests i was also never provided with an employment contract, which i believe is a legal requirement in the UK.
It was however upon learning about where the money went that i realised there must be something very wrong. We were told to tell investors that their money was left with an FSA approved Trustee - Citadel, which gave the investment some validity. However, as salesmen we were being given 6.5% of the investment as a commission (IIRC just over a £1000 per unit). A further 6.5% was then paid to the manager (a director of Silva Tree UK and i believe the new company in Panama): Lee Chapman. Chapman had worked with Visser in Spain in what sounded to me to be boiler rooms and was i think nothing more than Visser's 'gopher' and front man. The various agents such as Emerald Knight took a full 13% commission from every unit they took, with a further 6% taken by their Business Development Director Guido Thomasson. On top of this we have what I'd guess must have been another 10% per unit being taken per unit sold by Visser and Katz, I'd guess the Dutch Forestry guy who we were told was equal partner, would be taking the same. Visser openly claimed that Silva Tree was now his only source of income and he must have been taking a huge amount of money to fund his lavish lifestyle. He flew around the world between London, Israel, Holland and Panama - always business or first class (he'd regularly boast that at his height he couldn't travel coach) in a different country at least once a week. When in the UK he spent money as though it meant nothing - boasting he couldn't have less than £5k in his wallet.
If you take a conservative estimate of 30-40% of the money from each investment going on commission you then have all the other costs involved in the Silva Tree UK operation to fund from the remainder. The office in Kings Cross, though small must have been expensive to rent due to the location. The phone bills too would have been very high, we had on average 5 salesmen calling non-stop (you literally had to finish a call then pick up the phone and make the next without a seconds break) to potential investors from around the world, all day, 5 days a week. Each salesmen would be bought a new laptop by Visser as we started (it was company property though not ours!). The investor leads they were buying would also cost a huge amount, they weren't just buying cold leads of people who had invested before, these were sourced leads with the names and contact details of people who had responded to marketing on the likes of ADVFN etc for the princess project. I'd estimate they must have been spending at least a few thousand a week on marketing. There were further staff on straight salaries carrying out admin roles who i'd estimate were on £20-30k per year and the new Managing Director Edward Gibbs who boasted to me when drunk after one of Visser's infamous "I'll pay for everyone's drinks" nights out that he was on a six figure salary. The company also took on a marketing director who i'd imagine would be on a large salary too. Of course there are the other usual costs involved in running a business and once all this is taken into account i don't see how they can claim there was much money left over for planting trees and 'making the world a better place!' There was also a flat which Visser stayed in while in London which i was told was paid for by the company, knowing Visser it won't have been cheap!
We were shown pictures of the plantation and project in Panama during our one day of training from a visit (read holiday) for Visser, Chapman and spouses (again paid for by Silva Tree UK). They showed us the accommodation they'd provided for the Panamanian workers which was squalid and when i questioned this was told it was better than they're used too and Chapman/Visser laughed, "we stayed in a 5 star hotel though!" (...) upon seeing the site i immediately questioned the environmental impact of the project - Cutting down rainforest and replacing it with commercial forestry plantations is not environmentally friendly i was again greeted by a furious and incoherent Visser! I'd estimate local wildlife would be destroyed and their habitats erased forever, so much for an ethical investment! We were also told that Maurice - the Dutch forestry expert partner was dead set against Teak plantations and claimed none made any money - funny seeing as from your investigations he must have been talking from personal experience!
Each investor received land on a 20 year LEASE - it didn't belong to them as Visser liked to make out and actually belonged to Silva Tree and would be theirs again after then end of the lease. The guaranteed returns were based on a contract with WPI to buy all the timber produced, however this of course depended on the tree growing - which according to WPI it wouldn't at that height! The land was also presented as belonging to Silva Tree but was actually being bought out of the investors funds according to Visser and was of minimal value because no one else had been able to get anything of value to grow there. Visser claimed the carbon credits belonged to Silva Tree and would be his to sell, with investors not receiving a penny.
Having read your report on Visser's claims to have sold the company and now only be acting in a consultative role i have no doubt this is untrue. According to Lee Chapman's Linkedin profile he is now a director at Sustainable Capital Group, as is Karen Katz, Visser's wife. As mentioned earlier Chapman is nothing more than Visser's creature and front man. The website is also exactly the same format as Silva Tree UK's and Visser had claimed this had been designed by himself/his software company.
I left Silva Tree after having become embroiled in several rows with Visser and Chapman over the validity of the project, i'd always been told to bring up any and all questions i had over other investments at previous employers as it would help me provide investors with a better response if i'd done my own due diligence but this was not the case at Silva Tree. Several investors i had been dealing with put money into the project and despite assurances that i would be paid for their investments i never eceived any commission from them. I'd estimate I'm owed around £5000 that despite several letters and phone calls was never paid to me.
Do we need to say, dear reader, that we look so incredibly forward to the court case that Patrick Visser, Keren Visser-Katz and Maurice Sjerps have filed against us? Any volunteers to translate the above into Spanish so we can enter it?