Home Money Beware of the zombie wine firm that’s gone under THREE times! So can I get my money back? TONY HETHERINGTON investigates

Beware of the zombie wine firm that’s gone under THREE times! So can I get my money back? TONY HETHERINGTON investigates

by Elijah
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Ben Revell ran three companies and they all collapsed

BR writes: We are victims of Winebuyers. I met Ben Revell at a wine fair and fell in love with his idea. My company sent a shipment of wine. We know that Winebuyers sold some of our wine, but they haven’t paid us. Numerous calls and emails went unanswered, and Winebuyers even deducted charges from our credit card for months despite canceling our contract.

Tony Hetherington replies: Most phoenix companies rise from the ashes only once, but there seems to be almost no limit to the number of times wine merchant Ben Revell can cancel a company, start over, and then leave new remains behind him. I warned last September: ‘Beware of the zombie’. At that time, Revell was running the same business for the third time under different names, and now it too has collapsed. When he first launched as an online wine merchant, Revell formed Winebuyers Ltd. He charged wine producers and merchants to appear on his winebuyers.com website and promoted sales of their wine to the public. Buyers paid Revell’s company and most received their wine from him, but increasingly producers and merchants complained that they were not paid.

Ben Revell ran three companies and they all collapsed

Ben Revell ran three companies and they all collapsed

Winebuyers Ltd went into liquidation in 2021 with debts of around £1.5 million. Just as it failed, a new company was registered, called Winebuyers Group Ltd. It bought some of the failed company’s assets, including its customer records and website. To much of the outside world, nothing had gone wrong as the website was still there. On paper, the new company had a new boss, Kyle Fordham, but behind the scenes the strings were pulled by Revell, who described himself as CEO.

Once Winebuyers Group was up and running, Fordham resigned and has not been heard from in the wine trade since. Revell officially took over as director in March of last year, and in June I reported that there were unpaid court judgments, that he had not filed legally owed bills, and that consumer websites were full of complaints.

By July, the company had fallen into bankruptcy, blaming Covid, Brexit, the cost of living, a shortage of glass due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and, of course, climate change. What happened next was a farce. The administrators of the collapsed Winebuyers Group sold some of their assets, including their customer database and website, to a new company called Elysian Ventures Ltd, which offered £100,000. Elysian was founded by Revell, who then handed it over to a strange offshore company called Ophidian Corp, based in the Seychelles, where its ownership is hidden.

Once again, for outsiders visiting the Winebuyers website, everything remains the same, that is, until a few weeks ago. Last month, Revell resigned as a director and the website went down. Elysian Ventures has now gone into receivership. This latest collapse is due to Elysian handing over only half of the £100,000 it was supposed to pay to the administrators of Winebuyers Group.

The administrators, from leading insolvency firm Begbies Traynor, have issued a scathing report, saying that when Elysian Ventures failed to pay, they demanded the return of the Winebuyers website and everything else covered by the purchase agreement. Elysian responded that he could not access the computer system that ran his own website. Begbies Traynor then hired external IT experts, but says Elysian provided “just enough information to give the appearance of cooperation without allowing us to move forward.”

A report into the conduct of Winebuyers Group and its directors has been submitted to the Department for Business. Begbies Traynor cryptically adds that she is in contact with the Department “to provide them with any additional information they may require to support the continuation of their own investigations.”

The bottom line of all this is that it shows how a single person can control three successive companies, all of which collapse under huge debts, while at the same time using a single trading name: Winebuyers. No matter how you look at it, our corporate oversight system simply isn’t working.

Ben Revell could not be reached for comment. If he gets in touch I’ll be happy to let you know.

Income needs real people!

Mrs SC writes: I am treasurer of a small cat rescue charity. We are VAT registered and send returns to HM Revenue & Customs. Since our last refund claim was submitted, we have not received the almost £5,000 that HMRC themselves say we were owed.

The treasurer of a small cat rescue charity says it has not received the almost £5,000 which HMRC says was owed

The treasurer of a small cat rescue charity says they have not received the almost £5,000 which HMRC says was owed

The treasurer of a small cat rescue charity says it has not received the almost £5,000 which HMRC says was owed

Tony Hetherington replies: The biggest problem anyone faces with the taxman today is getting to someone who will actually listen to their question, much less give them an answer. Revenue managers behave as if the answer to every question is displayed on their website, which is clearly false. He tried many times to call the Treasury. He was lucky to get through, but when he did, they simply asked him automated questions and then sent him an online link to a web page showing that his refund had not been paid, which was exactly why he was calling. He emailed several times and received responses saying a response would be sent within 15 days. Of course he wasn’t. You published printed letters. They were never recognized.

I asked the officials at the Treasury head office to look into this. They discovered that their charity changed their banking details and informed the Treasury around the same time the refund was due. The refund went to your old account and returned to the taxman, and that’s where it stayed. Nobody forwarded it to your new account. The Treasury has apologized. Your refund of £4,799 has already been sent to your new account, along with £36 interest due to the delay. HMRC Board Members, please note that no website advice or recorded message could have resolved this issue. Please provide trained human beings who can handle real problems.

If you believe you are a victim of financial irregularity, please write to Tony Hetherington at Financial Mail, 9 Derry Street, London W8 5HY or email tony.hetherington@mailonsunday.co.uk. Due to the large volume of inquiries, it is not possible to provide personal responses. Please only send copies of the original documents, which we regret cannot be returned.

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