An entrepreneur who was acquitted on fraud charges following an investigation into a Ponzi-style scheme is launching a new venture aimed at disrupting the fibre broadband market.
Former millionaire Elfed Thomas, 57, is the former CEO of H20 Networks, which was responsible for delivering the UK’s first fibre-to-home networks in Bournemouth and Dundee a decade ago.
However in 2010 – the same year Thomas was crowned E&Y Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the North and Midlands Region – H2O and its backer Total Asset Finance were rocked by a £160 million fake contracts scam which resulted in a six-year investigation by the Serious Fraud Office.
In February 2017 four men were sentenced to 44 years in prison following a five-month trial while Thomas and another fellow defendant were acquitted by a jury.
“It was unreal. I’m still trying to get to grips with it now,” Thomas told BusinessCloud. “One minute we were a global company with a footprint all over the world – we’d just appointed an advisor to raise £200m in the City – then, out of the blue, it all came out.”
Thomas, who was unable to trade for the duration of the case, had to sell the company he founded in 2003 for just £1 to CityFibre as he began the long fight to clear his name.
“It was a very traumatic situation for myself and my family. I lost the company within two to three months and they tried to accuse me of being part of it, which obviously I wasn’t,” he continued.
“The judge complimented me on the way I set the business up, which they don’t do lightly. It was quite bizarre really.
“It wiped me out financially and I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Thomas’ new venture is British Fibre Networks, which will have bases in Llandudno, Wales, and Manchester. It aims to deliver “open access” pure fibre broadband to more than 35 per cent of new-build homes by 2021, benefiting both homeowners – who will have instant connectivity upon moving in and a choice of providers – and house builders.
“In the builders’ market it takes time to set up a broadband connection and it’s a monopolised situation,” he said. “We’ve got a leading price comparison site as a partner who will then engage with the consumer and decide which broadband supplier they want.
“We are completely neutral… this has never been done before.”
He has private equity backing for the venture.
“This is not an emotional return… investors are attracted to the commercial model because it’s got legs. It can get good returns and we can get market share quite quickly,” he said.
“In three years we want to be hitting 30,000-35,000 homes a year.”
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