As a silver-tongued charmer, George Scott always appeared to adore the sound of his own voice. Plausible and intellectually adroit, he seemed every inch the flamboyant character he fashioned himself into – a colourful entrepreneur, shameless self-publicist and writer of mystery fiction, whose epitaph is steeped in mystery.
Tall, grey-bearded and sporting a trendily-battered, straw Fedora, the ex-pro wrestler cut a Hemingwayesque dash, accentuated by a trans-Atlantic drawl, honed during his youth in Canada and the US. And he never lost an opportunity to milk his persona to the max.
I last talked to George in mid-2012, the conversation centring on the self, same topic of our many previous chats: where had over a million euros of other people’s money gone?
Unerringly, his responses were the same. He’d generally obfuscate, cavil, admit (some) blame yet somehow pass the buck. So pinning him down was akin to nailing jelly to a wall. Whatever else, he’d insist, he didn’t con anyone; he was ‘sorting the investors out’, even though they were pestering him (‘counter-productive’, he’d claim); he was in his late 70s and a sick man (true); and the banks were ‘impossible…they’re out to ruin me.’ Maybe, but, when pressed, he offered no reason why.
Normally, I’d have given up on George ages earlier, but, in my capacity as Fleet Street’s Man in Mallorca, I’d played some small part in his first flush of good fortune.
Because, in July, 2006 I was commissioned by a UK national newspaper to write a piece on a man who’d launched a unique Internet raffle – winaholidayhomeinspain.com – in which participants could scoop prizes of ‘exclusive villas’ or ‘luxury studio apartments’ in a ‘paradise’, tucked away off the beaten track in the majestic, Mallorcan hinterland.
Nestling astride a pine-clad, hillside, with the shimmering Mediterranean on the horizon and only birdsong to ruffle the tranquillity, one could be yours for the price of a ticket – just £100, €150 or the US$ equivalent, trumpeted the website’s blurb.
That was the tantalising entry fee to George’s master plan to offload the 10 ‘properties’ he valued (or, in this writer’s humble opinion, rather over-inflated) from €250,000 to €500,000, comprising a rustic hotel, Scott’s of Galilea. If all went to script, he’d gross himself over three million euros. Trousering such a windfall would have given him the moolah to pay off the bank’s lease on the business and live out his days in bliss, while still operating his other B&B, the voguish Scott’s Townhouse in Binisallem.
And, back in 2006, before the house-price bubble popped, George underlined his generosity of spirit, saying, ‘This seems a fair way to put luxury properties into the hands of people who couldn’t otherwise afford them. All people have to lose is the price of a meal out for four or a couple of tanks of petrol for an average car. And, heck, life’s a gamble anyway.’
All he needed was 33,000 punters for his raffle to work and, as he told me a month later, he’d sold 5,000 on the back of my story alone.
But, even given George’s panache, I felt a sense of misgiving about the idea. People had tried similar stunts before – like raffling their homes – and, for one reason or another, most had ended in tears.
Plus, there was Mallorca’s reputation for get-rich-quick schemes, which initially flourish on this Alice In Wonderland island, only to evaporate in the heady sunshine.
And, while he may have set out with sincere motives, for all his acumen, George seemed a man intoxicated with the bigger picture, rather than the devil in the detail.
Which is probably why his own pipedream got stuck in a morass of red tape and a self-manufactured mess.
Among oversights he admitted to, not only had he neglected to obtain planning permission to carve up his hotel into individual parcels, each one requiring its own property deed (an escritura in Spanish), he failed to obtain a local licence for a raffle, though he insisted he had American, Spanish and UK ones.
And, after an early rush, ticket sales – they were later re-branded ‘hotel vouchers’ to overcome legalities – flatlined.
About two years on, having exhausted excuses to hold regular draws as George promised, under pressure from participants a first – and only – lucky dip took place, with a couple from Rutland, in the UK, ‘winning’ a €250,000 studio
Only they didn’t… George told them ‘for legal reasons’ they couldn’t have it.
And in common with a host of others, they also made loans to his businesses, some up to €25,000. These were usually redeemable as fixed-period, interest-bearing bonds. But, to my knowledge, despite the terms expiring, none of the creditors has been repaid.
OFF-LINE: The website announcement, declaring the raffle axed
Meanwhile, at least 10,000 wannabe holiday home owners worldwide – many of them Brits – had snapped up tickets/vouchers, until the man himself scuppered the scheme two years ago.
George claimed he was too ill with cancer to continue, adding, ‘Due to cost factors, legal registration issues and a plague of fraudulent web scams, this offer is no longer available.’
Worse still, almost a year ago, a court siezed his twee Townhouse B&B, closed it down and its website, scottshotel.com, listed it as ‘for sale.’
Meanwhile, a group of anxious investors were demanding to know where their money was and Spanish police were called in to investigate the case, which a Palma lawyer conservatively estimates involved at least €1.3-million.
One frustrated investor, a retired police officer from Cardiff, said at the time, ‘We cannot get sense any out of Mr. Scott and, along with 32 other bond-holders, we’re considering legal action in Spain. As bond-holders who lent him cash to invest in his businesses in good faith, we are entitled to know what he’s done with our money and when we will get out returns.
‘It is also a gross injustice to build up people’s hopes of winning a holiday home, then not holding regular drawers for the properties as Mr. Scott promised. Even the one that he did hold was a farce and the winners never received their prize.’
In response to all allegations, the colourful hotelier adamantly denied any business impropriety, claiming he could account for every penny received. Yet, he never did to the creditors’ satisfaction.
Instead, just as he batted away my questions, he appeared to be playing a legal stalling game, until his death intervened at the beginning of this month.
Only George Scott knew the truth about the missing million from his holiday-home raffle and his business loans.
What investors want to know today is: will the mystery ever be cleared up now the mystery fiction writer-cum-B&B entrepreneur is in his grave?
Though I dearly hope it will, sadly, I have my doubts.