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The Serious Fraud Office (SFO) has charged four people with fraud over fundraising for an Internet start-up. The SFO yesterday charged the four in connection with two companies, Free Dot Net, an ISP, and Discount Telecom. Two other people were also embroiled in the Discount Telecom charges. The move was the first time the SFO had taken action against directors of a cyber company. Free Dot Net had raised £4 million since its 1996 launch in share placings under the Enterprise Investment Scheme, a government tax break. Last year the company recorded a pre-tax loss of £215,000 on sales of £791,000. Three directors, Jon Brody, Brian Atkins and Peter Henry, along with another man, Marios Nicolaides, were charged with conspiracy to induce investments through "misleading, false or deceptive" statements in prospectuses. The SFO also charged the four, plus Gerard Kavanagh and Katherine Diggins, with "dishonestly diverting sums of money" from Discount Telecom. Discount Telecom was set up in 1997 to sell cheap long distance phone calls and raised £800,000 from public subscribers. The charges were the result of a 17-month investigation by the SFO and the Metropolitan Police following a tip-off by the Department of Trade and Industry. ®

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