Reformed UK criminal helps beat Alentejo property scammer
An elderly couple, who say they fear losing their home in southern Portugal because of a scam, have turned to a reformed criminal for help, writes Len Port.
All the characters in this remarkable saga are British. The victims are Richard and Jane Wallinger, who fell in love with Portugal’s lifestyle and people on their first short visit in 2002. They sold their home in the UK in 2004 and used the funds to buy a house 30 kilometres from the town of Ferreiras do Alentejo in the district of Beja.
They say they were conned into trying to buy another plot of land by an unmarried couple who turned out to be fraudsters. The person trying to solve the ongoing problem is Shaun Smith, a former “enforcer” who was sentenced in Liverpool to five years’ imprisonment for a firearms offence.
Released from prison in 2009, Smith is now the director of an investigative and debt collection company. He has recently risen to fame as a bare-knuckle boxer in a Netflix documentary featuring his gym in Warrington, Cheshire.
Richard Wallinger, a former racing driver, says he handed over an initial payment of £50,000 in cash to a supposed vendor for a plot of land on a Ferreiras do Alentejo farm. He later made a bank payment of £60,000.
Wallinger says the amount he paid, including tax and lawyer fees, totalled the equivalent of €184,000. The vendor whom Richard had paid later denied receiving the £50,000 cash. His partner still lives on the farm but says she is no longer in a relationship with him, yet he has since been seen at her home.
Wallinger insists, however, that in 2004 the two alleged fraudsters had promised to repay him the full amount for the land he thought he had bought but which was never in his name. They had only given back the £60,000 and were now trying to sell the land to another couple.
In January 2007 both the alleged fraudsters attended a mediation hearing in the UK and agreed to return an outstanding amount of £116,000 to Wallinger within 21 days.
That did not happen, so Wallinger arranged to have the High Court order served at the farm on the vendor’s partner as she was the registered owner, but this backfired. She won a court judgement against Wallinger in which he was ordered to pay costs of £5,000.
Everything became more complicated when the British court order was transferred to the Portuguese legal system. The Wallingers were unable to attend civil hearings in Portugal because of poor health. They were both battling cancer.
A charge was lodged against their property in Portugal and the amount they owe has now reached nearly €145,000. Their financial problems and fear of losing their beloved home drove them to consider committing suicide.
“Jane and I have endured 16 and more years of hell at the hands of these evil fraudsters,” says Richard. “Only ou~
r strong competitive background as motor racing championship winners has helped us to deal with the stress and trauma”.
A friend referred them to Shaun Smith, who had totally changed his ways and turned his back on crime. As director of Shaun Smith Enterprises Ltd., he fully sympathises with the Wallingers’ plight. Last month he wrote to the alleged conman setting out some disturbing figures.
According to Smith, the fraudsters owes the Wallingers the original High Court amount of £116,000, plus interest at 8% per annum from January 2007 of £113,292, and collection costs to date of £15,000. Total: £244,292.
Smith offered to meet and discuss how the debt might be settled before further costs are incurred, but he has not yet received a reply.
Smith has described the situation as “diabolical.” He has emphasised that he “is going to fight tooth and nail to save the Wallinger pensioners from losing their home”.
Len Port worked at the Natural History Museum in London and later the Museum of Western Australia before turning to journalism. He worked for many years as a staff reporter, broadcaster and freelance correspondent covering major events in the Far East, Northern Ireland and South Africa before settling in Portugal where he has edited regional magazines, contributed to national news outlets overseas and written several books.