The UK’s anti-corruption agency said it was investigating “suspected fraud and money laundering in relation to … Woodhouse and individuals and companies associated with him”.
It added: “The conduct currently under investigation by the SFO relates to investments offered in care homes and hotels between 2013 and 2019.”
Woodhouse raised more than £80m from amateur investors over several years to build care homes and buy and refurbish hotels, promising generous returns.
The Guardian and ITV News revealed in June 2019 that many of the projects were incomplete, several years after they were due to be operational, while the businessman’s firms had a multimillion-pound black hole.
Al tempo, several investors, Oms in some cases had paid hundreds of thousands of pounds into Woodhouse projects, said they had not received the annual dividends they had been promised.
The SFO said it has asked UK-based investors in the suspected fraudulent schemes to complete a questionnaire by 30 settembre.
It said the information provided “will help us to establish the circumstances of the investments offered, to identify and pursue new information, and to progress the investigation as quickly as possible”.
It is understood that investors living overseas could also be contacted at a later date.
In summer 2019, some of Woodhouse’s creditors took the entrepreneur to court, seeking to place his businesses into interim administration.
The West Yorkshire-based businessman subsequently lost control of several of his companies after a high court judge ruled that his business model appeared to be “thoroughly dishonest” and a “shameful abuse of the privileges of limited liability trading”.
Efforts by the Guardian to contact Woodhouse for comment about the SFO’s announcement were unsuccessful. At the time of the undercover newspaper investigation, he denied any wrongdoing.
The SFO inquiry into the entrepreneur’s business dealings had initially been running covertly, according to a person familiar with the investigation. Covert investigations are often used in cases where there may be a risk of destruction of evidence. The inquiry is now understood to be at a stage where the SFO wants to gain more information from Woodhouse investors, and so the agency can make it public.
The Guardian understands the SFO’s preliminary investigations into Woodhouse began in 2019.
John Mann, who at the time was Labour MP for Bassetlaw and a member of parliament’s influential Treasury select committee, urged the SFO in 2019 to look into the embattled entrepreneur’s business dealings.
It is understood the SFO opens only a couple of suspected investment fraud cases each year.
The agency is asking anyone who believes they have been affected by Woodhouse’s investment schemes to check its website for updates and information on support services.
If an SFO investigation produces enough evidence to support a realistic prospect of conviction, and if a prosecution is considered to be in the public interest, the agency has the power to bring charges, which often result in a court trial.
Anyone found guilty of fraud or money laundering can be sent to prison.