THE boss of a Brazilian social housing investment scheme - the collapse of which led to the demise of a long-running Stourbridge law firm - has been banned from acting as a company director for 14 years after misleading clients.

Anthony Jon Domingo Armstrong-Emery failed to appear on March 15 at the High Court where a disqualification order was handed out in his absence.

The 41-year-old, who has disappeared but has links to Gibraltar, was banned for 14 years from becoming involved in the promotion, formation or management of a company - effective from April 6.

The court heard Armstrong-Emery and his colleague, former Dudley councillor - Charles Fraser-Macnamara, aged 60, from Halesowen, were directors of Ecohouse Developments Ltd.

Incorporated in May 2010, the company offered investments in the construction of social housing in Brazil.

Investors would typically pay £23,000 per unit and would expect to receive their capital plus a 20 per cent return 12 months later.

People were encouraged to invest by marketing literature and contracts that claimed Ecohouse owned the land the social housing was being built upon and the investment was secure. Investors were also told the exit strategy was backed by the government and Ecohouse was an approved supplier.

In May 2013, however, concerns about the company were posted online and by January 2015 Ecohouse Developments was placed into liquidation as it could not pay its debts, owing more than 350 investors around £21 million.

The liquidation triggered an investigation by the Insolvency Service into the company and the conduct of the directors.

Solicitor Charles Fraser-Macnamara, who has since been struck off, elected to provide a disqualification undertaking for nine years to the Secretary of State in January 2017 for his misconduct in running the company but Armstrong-Emery disputed the allegations.

However, the court upheld there was no evidence to show Ecohouse owned the land or had the right to ensure any land owned by a third party should be transferred to it and that marketing materials were misleading and inaccurate.

The court also heard the two directors had caused Ecohouse to maintain inadequate accounting records and did not deliver these to the liquidators.

As a result, the liquidators were unable to explain several substantial transactions, including payments to Armstrong-Emery worth more than £450,000, foreign payments totalling just over £11 million, credit card payments worth over £1 million and payments to a connected company worth £2.8 million.

Cheryl Lambert, chief investigator for the Insolvency Service, said: "Members of the public thought they were getting a great deal but were unfortunately tricked into investing into a company that provided false and misleading information.

"The evidence against the directors was substantial and while Anthony Armstrong-Emery thought he could evade our enquiries as he lived abroad, the court action is testament that we will take robust action against directors who disregard their obligations."

The collapse of EcoHouse led to the demise of Stourbridge law firm Sanders & Co in Hagley Road which lost its ability to secure professional indemnity insurance in 2016 after it acted as an "escrow agent" - a kind of contractual arrangement to accept investors' funds and pass them on as invoices are presented - for the housing scheme.

The investors have tried various avenues to seek recompense for their lost investments but to date their efforts have been unsuccessful.

Mr Fraser-Macnamara, a former staunch Conservative politician who was once leader of the council, has since helped to found local political party - the Black Country Party.