A Shipwreck, an Insurance Scam, and a Murderous Cover-Up

The scheme might have worked beautifully, had David Mockett not entered the picture. Within days of the incident, a firm hired by the insurers asked Mockett to visit the ship. He traveled to the site with Vergos and a man named Dimitrios Plakakis, who was working on Vergos’s salvage business but had refused to get involved in the sabotage of the ship itself. During the investigation, Mockett expressed doubts about the piracy story within “earshot of many” on board. Vergos offered him some “unsolicited counsel”: “At your age,” he said, “it’s better to stay with your grandchildren.” He also later urged, “You can go back to your country and enjoy your grandchildren.” Within days, Mockett was dead, and Vergos later told Plakakis, “I told him to stay with his grandchildren.”

Now a second inquiry began: Lloyd’s hired two more investigators, Richard Veale and Michael Conner, to continue Mockett’s work. As the book follows their efforts, it makes accessible the routine but dizzying complexities of modern financial fraud—replete with shell companies, internationally dispersed bank accounts, and foreign governments that either cannot or will not make serious headway in preventing corporate malfeasance that, in the extreme case of the Brillante Virtuoso and Mockett, can have the most serious of tangible, nonpecuniary consequences. Nothing in Veale and Conner’s investigation was straightforward. The Brillante Virtuoso, Campbell and Chellel explain, was owned by a company incorporated in “the Pacific tax haven of the Marshall Islands,” and that company was “in turn owned by a Greek family based in Piraeus, just outside Athens.” The ship sailed “under the flag” of Liberia, which provides “cheap, hassle-free registrations to about one in ten of the world’s commercial vessels”—though, by historical quirk, Liberia’s registry is actually overseen by “Israeli-American entrepreneurs operating out of a headquarters in Dulles, Virginia.” This was all part of “a system that had evolved over the previous six decades to eliminate financial and regulatory friction at every opportunity.”

After about six years of investigation, Veale and Conner finally made a breakthrough. In 2017, they learned Plakakis had relocated to London, and that he had been talking to the City of London Police as part of a fraud investigation that officials were conducting. Plakakis eventually testified before the court overseeing the insurance dispute, while he was under the protection of law enforcement, and described how Iliopoulos, Vergos, Nashwan, and others had orchestrated the sabotage of the Brillante Virtuoso as an insurance fraud. The presiding court agreed that they had perpetrated a fraud and issued an opinion ruling in favor of the insurers in the civil case (which concerned whether the insurers needed to pay out from the policy), yet the criminal investigation ultimately stalled. Campbell and Chellel write that the City of London’s investigation “appeared to have sputtered out.” After Plakakis’s day in court, there does not appear to have been any further, discernible investigative activity.

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