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Did Dragons' Den winner scam Spanish workers?

Jessica Jones · 3 Dec 2014, 12:20

Published: 03 Dec 2014 12:20 GMT+01:00

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Dozens of young Spaniards, eager to start a new life abroad, enlisted the help of London-based agency, Mi Prima de Londres, now MPDL-UK, whose website promised to help them with services such as finding accommodation and securing jobs and internships, according to a report in Spain's El Mundo newspaper. 

The company was set up in 2010 by the winner of the first ever episode of Dragon’s Den, Charles Ejogo, who wowed the dragons with his idea for an umbrella vending machine.

MPDL-UK had promised the Spaniards for £399 (€515) a translation of their CV into English, individual business cards, research into the job market in the UK to identify and apply for job positions. The agency also claimed it would help them open a bank account, obtain a national insurance number, find accommodation and get them an English SIM card.

But after paying up, dozens of young Spaniards say all contact stopped, with phone calls and emails being ignored.

Olga R.C, an engineer from Valladolid, was promised by the company that she would be given assistance in finding an internship in London, as well as help finding a flat, getting a national insurance number and setting up up a bank account.

After handing over her money, however, she received none of the help she had been promised.

She told The Local: "I contacted them frequently, but they just did nothing for me and finally threatened me. I used to use different phones every time I called them so they often picked up, but I know in some cases they just never answered the phone."

Olga claims she was threatened by the agency director and Dragons’ Den winner, Charles Ejogo, over the telephone.

"The director told me that if I did anything to harm his company, he would make it impossible for me to work in the UK. He told me I was immature and didn't need any documents to do a 'fucking internship'".

The young Spaniard says she was not the only victim of the agency who was intimidated in this way and says she finally gave up trying to reach the company after her concerned family in Spain advised her to do so.

Olga showed The Local a series of emails she exchanged with MPDL-UK that appear to show the various promises made by the company.

After she paid the upfront sum, the emails from the company become more and more infrequent and Olga says it became increasingly difficult to contact them.

On her arrival in London, she still did not have a placement, somewhere to live, or the SIM card promised by the company. Although they found her accommodation two days after she arrived in London, the main reason she used the company in the first place was so she would have accommodation organized as soon as she arrived in the UK.

In the end, Olga says the company did not help her find an internship, set up a bank account or translate her CV into English, services that are all offered on their website and part of the package she paid for.

Now organizers of Twitter group, "Work Scam UK" have launched legal action against the agency, filing complaints with Spanish national police and the UK's fraud squad. The company is currently under investigation.

In a statement released on Wednesday, Charles Ejogo, managing director of MPDL-UK said the original El Mundo article was "unfair".

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He said that MPDL-UK works with over 200 clients per month yet no reference was made to them, or the 300 partners, including universities and job centres, that MPDL-UK has worldwide.

In the statement, Ejogo says that he has reached out to the two clients mentioned in the original report, but they have chosen not to contact the company and also pointed out that the company has not been contacted by any official body, such as the police, but would be willing to work with any organization that contacts them to discuss any potential issues surrounding their services. 

In the last year alone, the Spanish Embassy in the UK has registered 105 cases of fraud concerning agencies that offer help to Spaniards recently arrived in the country, according to Spanish newspaper El Mundo.

After the high number of fraud cases, the Spanish government has launched a website with advice for young Spaniards moving to the UK. It says you should be wary if a job is offered online without a face-to-face interview, if the email address is a hotmail or gmail account, and not a company email, and if the telephone number given is a mobile number.

The website also tells young people to be wary of offers of spectacular salaries, they will probably be fake, and has a special section of advice for au pairs, who are frequently victims of fraud in the UK.

For more news from Spain, join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Jessica Jones (jessica.jones@thelocal.com)

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