THE directors of a company offering investments in Costa Rican plantations have been banned from heading up any limited business for six years each.

The men – Matthew Pickard, 48 and from Poole, Stephen Greenaway, 40 and from Bournemouth, and Paul Laver, 40 and from Ferndown – withdrew millions in tax from a scheme they knew was being investigated by Revenue and Customs (HMRC).

Their company Ethical Forestry Ltd owned 80 per cent of a Costa Rican business which in turn owned plantation land, a saw mill and the infrastructure to plant trees in forestry plantations. Around 3,500 UK investors were registered with the company.

They put some £70m into the unregulated scheme to own trees on the plantations.

Investors were given free pension reviews before ‘opportunities’ at the plantation were offered.

Many then invested in Ethical Forestry by transferring their occupational pensions into self-invested personal pensions (SIPPs).

The directors entered Ethical Forestry into a tax planning scheme in 2012. As a result, some £28.8m was made available to the men through loan accounts.

The directors withdrew £19m between 2012 and 2014, although HMRC said it would investigate the company’s tax planning scheme in March 2013. Ethical Forestry, then based in Bournemouth (offices pictured), was voluntarily liquidated in 2015.

Anthea Simpson, chief investigator for the Insolvency Service, called the case “relatively unusual”.

“The directors were aware that HMRC was investigating the tax planning scheme through which they had already drawn very substantial sums from the company, and yet in this knowledge they continued in the same vein for a further 12 months, taking an additional £7m,” she said.

Simon Chaplin of HMRC said: “Where directors cause companies to use tax avoidance schemes for personal benefit and put uncollected tax at risk they should be held accountable for their conduct.”