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A woman believed to be Britain’s most prolific female fraudster
who disappeared after conning banks out of £13 million has today
(Nov 9) been jailed for nine years.
Maria Michaela, aged 33, was sentenced at Harrow Crown Court
having admitted to using a false identity to acquire eight
A City of London Police investigation revealed how Michaela
presented herself to lenders as Joanne Pier, the heiress to a South
African business fortune whose grandfather had founded the leisure
complex Sun City.
Between August 2007 and April 2008 she persuaded HBOS to give
her four separate loans worth £10.5million to buy eight properties
in the London area.
To support Michaela’s application the bank were handed false
valuations by a property surveyor who was later proved to be
working with the fraudster.
Mary-Jane Rathie used non-existent corporate tenancy agreements
as the basis for doubling the market price for five of the
In exchange Rathie was handed more than a million pounds in
money and gifts, including a Bentley and Range Rover.
Around the same time the Royal Bank of Scotland was approached
by a Joanne Pier asking to refinance assets from her family trust
and into her own name due to problems with her father.
The bank agreed to make a series of loans to her totalling £2.5
million. As with HBOS the loans were defaulted and much of the
money advanced was lost.
At this point the alias Joanne Pier was changed to Zoe Fletcher,
and in late 2008 Michaela approached RBS for a second time through
a contact of Rathie in an attempt to fraudulently refinance
At the first meeting she was introduced to an employee she had
met when securing the first batch of loans from the bank.
He identified her as Joanne Pier and referred it to the bank’s
internal investigation who then reported it to City of London
Police, but by this point Michaela had already gone to ground.
A long running search for Michaela, which included Crimewatch
and national newspaper appeals, ended in January when investigating
officers tracked her down to a mortgage brokers in Blackheath where
she had been working under the name of Mia Kul.
She was arrested and a search of her Deptford flat uncovered a
number of different disguises.
Maria Michaela was sentenced after pleading guilty to two counts
of fraud by false representation.
In June 2011 Mary-Jane Rathie was sentenced to six years in
prison after being convicted of five counts of fraud and one count
of money laundering.
Detective Inspector Andy Fyfe, of the City of London Police
“Maria Michaela created a web of deception that duped banks into
handing over vast sums of money, and then perpetuated her crimes by
assuming a new alias to try and secure more loans.
“False identities and a corrupt property surveyor were the tools
she used to make millions, turning herself into one of the, if not
the, most prolific female fraudster the UK has ever seen.
“That she is now finally behind bars is a result of the City of
London Police’s refusal to give up the search, and proves once
again that fraudsters can run, they can hide, but ultimately they
will face their day of reckoning.”