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Conman Hamish McLaren jailed for up to 16 years after swindling $7.6m from victims

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At Sydney’s district court on Thursday, acting judge Colin Charteris noted with some irony that convicted fraudster Hamish Earle McLaren had been “unusually silent”.

Since being arrested at his home in Bondi in December 2017, through to his sentencing on Thursday, the serial fraudster who dressed like James Bond, drove Ferraris and defrauded $7.6m from more than a dozen people including close friends and girlfriends, had chosen to remain silent.

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“The man who had spent six years spinning yarns to people, having the gift of the gab, did not want to talk to police about what he had been doing and was unusually silent,” Charteris said.

What McLaren had shared – a one-page letter in which he said he was truly sorry and that he deserved the label of conman – had left Charteris unimpressed.

The letter, Charteris said, contained “a paucity of explanation”.

“It does not persuade me remotely that this man is sorry,” he said. “I do not believe he has any remorse, I believe he is consumed by himself … the one focus was his wellbeing, so he could live, apparently, the high life, while spending the retirement savings of others.”

Charteris sentenced McLaren to 16 years in jail with a non-parole period of 12 years over a string of fake investments in which he defrauded 15 victims, including Australian fashion designer Lisa Ho.

Wearing a grey suit, blue shirt and navy tie, McLaren rarely looked up during the lengthy sentencing, instead taking copious notes throughout the judge’s remarks.

He did not react when his sentence was handed down, but the public gallery, full of McLaren’s victims, broke into applause.

The court found McLaren had been “motivated by greed and not need” in swindling millions from his victims, primarily through a Ponzi or pyramid scheme.

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The 49-year-old was arrested in 2017 after multiple faux investment schemes – including in currency, gold and shares in a “profitable” Papua New Guinea gold mine – came unstuck.

McLaren had no formal financial qualifications and on one occasion also pretended to be a practising barrister. He claimed to have been a graduate of Harvard business school, and used a number of aliases including Hamish Watson, Hamish Maxwell and Max Tavita.

The court heard that he promised victims high returns on investments, in many cases encouraging them to access their superannuation funds or redraw from their mortgages.

In most cases he did not invest their funds, instead transferred money between his accounts to be “spent as he decided”, including to help fund a lavish lifestyle that included frequent trips to the US and UK and an Aston Martin.

He also used his victim’s money to pay small amounts to other victims, often as a way to encourage them to give him more money.

“This offender preyed upon the victims. He had the ability to persuade them to part with their money. He had no empathy for them,” acting judge Charteris said.

“He was driven by the main game, which was to obtain their money to spend as he wished.”

Calling McLaren’s offending “the most reprehensible one could imagine”, Charteris said McLaren had shown “absolutely no compassion” for his victims and “appeared to have no conscience” in his offending.

He said he had “regrettably come to the view that Mr McLaren is not remorseful [and is] sorry for no one other than himself”.

“Mr McLaren is sorry for his own predicament and not truly sorry for the ruinous results of his outrageous conduct,” he said.

McLaren was the subject of the Australian newspaper’s Who the Hell is Hamish podcast. The on-going series detailed allegations against McLaren going back three decades.

At McLaren’s sentencing hearing, his brother-in-law, Christopher Rourke, testified: “He would watch a James Bond movie and then dress like James Bond. Same suit, same hair.”

McLaren’s victims are still owed a total of $5.4m, or $900,000 a year over the six years of his offending.

On Thursday, Charteris joined McLaren’s victims in questioning where that money was.

“Even James Bond would have trouble spending $900,000 a year,” he said. “It’s an extraordinary sum of money [and] no real explanation has been given for where it is.

“I cannot conclude that some of the money is not still in this country or overseas, all I can say is the endeavours of police have not been able to locate it but I simply cannot say he spent it all.”

Outside the court, some of his victims said they felt “happy and sad”.

“It doesn’t change what’s happened … the next question is where is the money,” one said.

A number of his victims said they were sure McLaren had money hidden off shore but that finding it would be “like tracking a flock of pigeons”.

McLaren will be eligible for parole in July 2029.

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