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Friday, 24 May, 2002, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Three freed as St Paul's trial collapses
St Paul's Cathedral
The dome at St Paul's was in need of refurbishment
The trial of three men accused of conspiring to carry out a multi-million pound fraud against St Paul's Cathedral has collapsed, after two of the defendants fled to America.

Fraudsters posing as Hollywood film producers asked St Paul's for 100m to put in a US Treasury-linked investment scheme.

They claimed it would make a 50m profit for St Paul's - enough to renovate the cathedral's dome.


The canon was obviously not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and was very interested

DI Bob Wishart
City of London Police

But the plot was foiled after a tip-off to City of London police, who sent in undercover agents posing as financiers.

Six men were arrested for conspiracy to commit fraud and a trial was due to go ahead at Southwark Crown Court on Friday.

But two of the defendants, Joe Lowrey and Andrew Jalassola, jumped bail and fled to Florida where the conspiracy to defraud charge is not recognised, making extradition impossible.

'Bite the bullet'

The Crown Prosecution Service told the court it would be unfair to proceed against a third defendant, so the judge returned a not guilty verdict against Italian lawyer Giorgio Rubolino, who was not in court to hear the news.

Andrew Jalassola
Andrew Jalassola: believed to be in Florida

Ken Aylett, prosecuting, told the court that although the CPS had a strong case to take before a jury, they now had to "bite the bullet" and accept that Mr Rubolino - who denied the charge - might not be able get a fair trial.

Italian Antonio Barea, 28, pleaded guilty last year to conspiracy to defraud St Paul's and is to be sentenced on 10 June.

Two other men, an American calling himself Ron Wood and a Canadian known as Anthony Foster, are also still wanted by police.

Warrants have been issued for the arrest of 67-year-old American Lowrey and Jalassola, 32, from Finland.

But BBC crime correspondent Stephen Cape says attempts to get the suspects back to Britain could be long and drawn out.

'Gift horse'

In 1999, St Paul's Cathedral faced substantial costs for refurbishment.

It was at that time, a gang attempted to persuade officials to invest 100m in the bogus scheme.


We are a cathedral, we like to believe the best in people

Major General John Milne, cathedral registrar
The offer was initially made by two men to the canon of the cathedral following a Sunday church service.

Detective Inspector Bob Wishart, of City of London Police, said: "They offered 50m to help repair the dome of the cathedral, there had been some publicity about the dome needing major renovation work.

Joe Lowrey
Missing: Joe Lowrey
"The canon was obviously not one to look a gift horse in the mouth and was very interested and referred them to the cathedral fundraising organisation."

Speaking to BBC News after the trial's collapse, cathedral registrar Major General John Milne defended the serious consideration they had given to the initial offer.

"We were slightly sceptical right from the start but of course we always start from a position of trust - we are a cathedral, we like to believe the best in people.

"But it didn't run for very long before we became aware that really it wasn't all it was turning out to be so we and the police were on to it."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Stephen Cape
"Attempts to get the prisoners back could be long and drawn-out"
See also:

24 May 02 | UK
24 May 02 | Americas
12 Feb 02 | England
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