Several articles here have delved into the history of John Bernard, the pseudonym used by a fake billionaire technology investor who tricked dozens of startups into giving him tens of millions of dollars. Bernard’s latest victim — a Norwegian company hoping to build a fleet of environmentally friendly shipping vessels — is now embroiled in a lawsuit over a deal gone bad, in which Bernard falsely claimed to have secured $100 million from six other wealthy investors, including the founder of Uber and the artist Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, better known as The Weeknd.
John Bernard is a pseudonym used by John Clifton Davies, a convicted fraudster from the United Kingdom who is currently a fugitive from justice and residing in Ukraine. Davies’ Bernard persona has fleeced dozens of technology companies out of an estimated $30 million with the promise of lucrative investments.
For several years until reinventing himself again quite recently, Bernard pretended to be a billionaire Swiss investor who made his fortunes in the dot-com boom 20 years ago and who was seeking investment opportunities. Bernard generated a stream of victims by offering extraordinarily generous finder’s fees for investment brokers who helped him secure new clients. But those brokers would eventually get stiffed as well because Bernard’s company would never consummate a deal.
In case after case, Bernard would promise to invest millions in tech startups, and then insist that companies pay tens of thousands of dollars worth of due diligence fees up front. However, the due diligence company he insisted on using — another Swiss firm called Inside Knowledge — also was secretly owned by Bernard, who would invariably pull out of the deal after receiving the due diligence money.
But Bernard would adopt a slightly different approach to stealing from Freidig Shipping Ltd., a Norwegian company formed in 2017 that was seeking the equivalent of USD $100 million investment to bring its green fleet of 30 new offshore service vessels to fruition.
Journalists Harald Vanvik and Harald Berglihn from the Norwegian Business Daily write that through investment advisors in London, Bernard was introduced to Nils-Odd Tønnevold, co-founder of Freidig Shipping and an investment advisor with 20 years of experience.
“Both Bernard and Inside Knowledge appeared to be professionals,” the reporters wrote in a story that’s behind a paywall. “Bernard appeared to be experienced. He knew a lot about start-ups and got into things quickly. Credible and reliable was the impression of him, said Tønnevold.”
“Bernard eventually took on the role of principal investor, claiming he had six other wealthy investors on the team, including artist Abel Makkonen Tesfaye, known as The Weeknd, Uber founder Garrett Camp and Norilsk Nickel owner Russian Vladimir Potanin,” the Norwegian journalists wrote. “These committed to contribute $99.25 million to Freidig.”
So in this case Bernard conveniently claimed he’d come up with almost all of the investment, which came $750,000 short of the goal. Another investor, a Belgian named Guy Devos, contributed the remaining $750,000.
But by the spring of 2020, it was clear that Devos and others involved in the shipping project had been tricked, and that all the money which had been paid to Bernard — an estimated NOK 15 million (~USD $1.67 million) — had been lost. By that time the two co-founders and their families had borrowed USD $1.5 million, and had transferred the funds to Inside Knowledge.
“Further investigations indicated that Bernard was in fact a convicted and wanted Briton based in the Ukrainian capital Kiev,” the Norwegian Business Daily reported. “Guy Devos has sued Nils-Odd Tønnevold with a claim of 750,000 dollars because he believes Tønnevold has a responsibility for the money being transferred to Bernard. Tønnevold rejects this.”
Bernard’s scam is genius because he never approaches investors directly; rather, investors are incentivized to put his portfolio in front of tech firms seeking financial backing. And because the best cons begin as an idea or possibility planted in the target’s mind.
What’s remarkable about Freidig Shipping’s fleecing is that we heard about it at all. In the first of this now five-part series, we heard from Jason Kane, an attorney who focuses on investment fraud. Kane said companies bilked by small-time investment schemes rarely pursue legal action, mainly because the legal fees involved can quickly surpass the losses. What’s more, most victims will likely be too ashamed to come forward.
“These are cases where you might win but you’ll never collect any money,” Kane said. “This seems like an investment twist on those fairly simple scams we all can’t believe people fall for, but as scams go this one is pretty good. Do this a few times a year and you can make a decent living and no one is really going to come after you.”
It does appear that Bernard took advantage of a stunning lack of due diligence by the Freidig co-founders. In this May 2020 post on Twitter — well after their funds had already been transferred to Bernard — Nils-Odd Tønnevold can be seen asking Uber co-founder Garrett Camp if he indeed had agreed to invest in his company:
John Clifton Davies, a.k.a. John Bernard, Jonathan Bibi, John Cavendish, is a U.K. man who absconded from justice before being convicted on multiple counts of fraud in 2015. Prior to his conviction, Davies served 16 months in jail on suspicion of murdering his third wife on their honeymoon in India. The U.K. authorities later dropped the murder charges for lack of evidence. Davies currently resides with his fourth wife in or near Kyiv, Ukraine.
If you liked this story, check out my previous reporting on John Bernard/Davies:
Due Diligence That Money Can’t Buy
Who is Tech Investor John Bernard?
Promising Infusions of Cash, Fake Investor John Bernard Walked Away With $30 Million
And nobody can fetch him back to justice? That is ludicrous, when we have the USA extraditing people from clear across the globe by hook or crook. But then, suckers are soon parted from their money when they don’t do their due diligence and their eyes are clouded by the green of MOAR moolah…
“Kane said companies bilked by small-time investment schemes rarely pursue legal action, mainly because the legal fees involved can quickly surpass the losses.” If they are not pursuing it I guess they’re just not reporting it to authorities? That would make it rather impossible for law enforcement to build a criminal case. Still I would think just one or three instances of FRAUD they became aware of after the fact would be enough to get some investigation traction, apparently not. It’s pretty ridiculous that this can go on and on for decades and nothing serious happens to the guy via legal inertia.
So this guy is notorious but there are limits to even the US’s reach. Another extremely notorious actor for exemple Jho Low, fleeced a massive amount of money from Malaysia and Jordan currently resides in China and travels on a Macau passport. He involved US banks in his scam (he also financed the movie Wolf of Wallstreet), but the US settled rather than pursue him and China offered him asylum for a cut of the money he illegally made.
pure economic decisions are predictable fails
I did a Google search of “john bernard swiss investor” and the page was filled with links to his fraudulent past. There had to have been dozens of people at multiple companies and law firms involved in a $100 million deal. And not one Googled his name to find out who they were dealing with?
If you did that same Google search in early 2020 you would not have found much. I first wrote about him in Sept 2020, and this is the fifth story about him, so yes he has some copious coverage in Google now.
If I did a Google search for a multi-million dollar tech investor and found nothing at all, that would be as bad as finding copious coverage of his fraudulent past. Even small angel investors get tech press coverage.
“Nils-Odd Tønnevold, co-founder of Freidig Shipping and an investment advisor with 20 years of experience.”
Yet another rich guru who got rich by dumb luck.
He’s fumbling around, he has no idea what he is doing.
Of course he fell for this obvious scam.
@vb- Yes, you are right john Bernard was fake investor. He was used by John Clifton Davies, a convicted fraudster from the United Kingdom who is currently a fugitive from justice and residing in Ukraine. Davies’ Bernard persona has fleeced dozens of technology companies out of an estimated $30 million with the promise of lucrative investments.
@Brian- So tell me one thing, why other person write or talk about his fraud and making fake image in the market.
as for the Heic file – I’ve found four uses for it using my favorite search engine… https://fileinfo.io/open-heic-file/
A number of years ago, I worked for a startup high tech company that was desperate for money. Over time we found several companies that expressed an interest but faded away. Many said that they would like to invest and to come back when we found a lead investor.
We had one company that came in looking good and didn’t fade away. They were ready to invest money and everything looked good.
However, one of our employees did some outside work for another high tech company and this company had invested in it. We quickly found out that what the company did was to take control of the Board of Directors as part of the investment agreement and would put in a little money, but not much, to get going for a very short period of time.
They would then put in a couple of their own people in the company at a high salary and then there people would start ordering equipment. The equipment would come in the front door and out the back door. By the time they finished with that little company, they had milked it for everything they could get out of it. The little company had nothing left — no money, no credit, and a very bad financial reputation. Everyone who sold anything to that company after the “infusion” of cash was not paid at all.
If not for that, they would have done the same to our company. As it was, our company did go bankrupt, but we kept fighting for it to the end.
That sounds a lot like the way the mob takes over businesses, either out of coercion or extortion, or for insurance fraud or to settle debts.
That sounds more like asset management by a mba. Some are straight up, caring for the company, some straight out book it to all it’s worth. But, there must not be any regulation on the line, otherwise, they would be in the pokey.
holy… um… moly.
“promise to invest millions in tech startups, and then insist that companies pay tens of thousands of dollars worth of due diligence fees up front. ”
Smells like basic 419 scam. “I can give you millions. I only need you to send me 100$”.
Why are we giving Ukraine all this aid, they should just get it from their hackers.
If by “we” you refer to USA, why do give “aid” to any country? I’ve always thought we shouldn’t.
You reckon he’s a Ukrainian hacker, huh? Paying taxes in Ukraine on the money he’s stolen?
Paying taxes? Oh no, he just lives there to be outside the reach of Britain, the USA or Norway.
Keep in mind there are significant portions of Ukraine that are no longer under the control of the Ukrainian government.
Some say the entire reason for the invasion of eastern Ukraine was to keep plausible deniability intact, where foreigners working inside of Ukraine funnel money to criminal organizations within the invading country. This is so they can claim they have no involvement because the crime doesn’t take place within their borders.
Source or link would help?
Hilarious. Obviously I should have specified for this part –
“Some say the entire reason for the invasion of eastern Ukraine was to keep plausible deniability intact, where foreigners working inside of Ukraine funnel money to criminal organizations within the invading country. This is so they can claim they have no involvement because the crime doesn’t take place within their borders.”
Not to be impolite, but this has been discussed on this blog before. Not knowing this points you out as being new. And/or intentionally obtuse. I don’t mean to be rude but maybe take a little while to read up on a topic before demanding others spend their free time educating you. Which, if you did turn out to be a troll (Brian gets a lot of them), would be a complete waste of time.
All I asked for was any background source for that interesting bit.
No need for appeal to authority or pretending I’m being obtuse,
you have one or can say “I don’t have one handy.” I’m not judging.
I wanted to read something about that beyond a one liner opine.
If you’re going to throw up broad wiki links instead and browbeat,
nevermind, sorry I touched a nerve apparently. No need to troll.
I’ll just assume you don’t have one and say good day.
I don’t think it’s “trolling” to ask what someone is referencing.
But if there’s no handy citation I guess we’ll just leave it there.
I’m not new but I certainly don’t have my panopticon on 24/7,
it was legitimate interest in what you’re talking about there.
I don’t understand the defensiveness for such a simple thing.
Such a nasty response wilts my interest in your claim considerably.
“Not to be impolite” lol.
In the interest of saving time, just say you have no reference.
No need to troll someone legitimately asking.
I’m here a lot, didn’t see that. Did BK mention it or some commenter?
Um, didn’t you know that “RUSSIA BAD”- CIA?
I am seriously interested to read about that part in any detail.
Don’t ask a guy named after seymour butts to troll you by asking him for a simple citation, that’s totally uncalled for.
Post-due diligence via twitter. Fumbling indeed.
Mr. Krebson is going to bring this guy down with that dogged shaky flashlight determination.
I smell a novel.
Hah hah. I guess even criminals can perform a useful function for society occasionally.
What’s that they say about fools and their money …?
Something about him here: https://www.heart.co.uk/fourcounties/news/local/mk-man-convicted-of-mass-fraud/
There’s no date but maybe 2015? He’s wanted here in the UK.
John Davies was convicted in 2015, in absentia. John Bernard appeared in or around 2016/2017, but there was precious little about him online other than his website until 2020. And there was nothing that I could find which connected the two identities.