A BUSINESSMAN accused of plotting a £1.6million fraud has claimed he only learned he being investigated when he read about it in the Echo.

MatthewAmes, 38, of Goldfinch Lane, Thundersley, made the claim as his lawyer launched an angry attack in court on the Financial Services Authority, accusing it of “leaking” information about the case to the media.

Ames denies two charges of fraudulent trading, in connection with two companies he ran from a barn conversion in Dunton Road, Laindon.

He is accused of scamming investors through a carbon credit scheme and and plans to invest in Sri Lankan teak plantations.

Both purported to protect the rainforest, while guaranteeing investors a return of 12 per cent in the first three years.

Isleworth Crown Court was told Ames covered up his fraud by using what is know as a “Ponzi scheme” – repaying investors as new investors’ money came into the business.

It is also claimed the companies never bought any land for planting teak trees or protecting rainforest to generate carbon credits, which can be traded like shares.

However, in an emotional statement from the witness box, Ames told the jury: “I can’t put it strongly enough how much I refute the allegations. I am not that sort of person. I amnota violent or angry person.

“I thought you were meant to be innocent until proven guilty, but that is not how I or my family have been treated and not been allowed to carry on my business.”

Defence barrister Adam Budworth went on to criticise the Financial Services Agency, saying “I can’t understand why the FSA would be investigating a company and would just leak or let it be known to the Echo it was carrying out an investigation without going to the company first.

“Once the story goes in the Echo, you must surely understand a press article is coming out, saying the FCA is investigating this company for breaches of financial regulations, amounts to the death knell for any financial company.”

Ames told the jury he was forced to close his teak tree plantation scheme, known as the Investor Club, and the carbon credits company Forestry for Life, in March 2011.

He said this was before he had a chance to get the projects themselves up and running and make the promised returns.

The court heard he bought 5,000 50p teak trees from a Sri Lankan nursery, but never bought the land for them.

The trial continues.