Article in London Daily Mail, late November 2000:
MI5 put me out of business; Internet tycoon with GBP 1m debts
blames spies as he denies fleeing his creditors
A COMPUTER tycoon whose firm collapsed with debts of almost GBP
1million yesterday denied that he had fled to Sri Lanka to escape his
Instead, Joe de Saram told an extraordinary story of persecution by
British Government 'spies'.
Sitting in a secluded Colombo garden, the 27-year-old claimed the
secret agencies are determined to put him out of business because he
has developed encryption technology which could stop them monitoring
He spoke of helicopter surveillance over his home, being followed
in the street by shadowy figures and cars with number plates that could
be traced back to the Government and people 'talking into their
sleeves' while watching him in restaurants. Mr de Saram's
Sheffield-based company, Rhodium, which specialised in protecting
businesses from hackers, ran into 'mysterious' financial problems which
led last week to a judge in Leeds winding it up.
Talking for the first time about the affair, Mr de Saram insisted
he has more than enough money to pay everyone back. His GBP 20,000
Rolex flashed in the sun as he claimed to be worth 'about GBP
4.5billion, give or take a million or two.' He could settle virtually
all his bills with his prestigious black American Express card, he
said. 'I will be more than happy to deposit GBP 1million, GBP 2million,
GBP 3million, whatever, in a New York attorney's client account as a
gesture of goodwill to show I intend to pay everyone. I will not do
this, however, until I have got some answers from the British
Even by the standards of high-tech tycoons, the rise of Sri
Lankan-born Mr de Saram was rapid. The only son of medical parents, who
moved to the UK when he was a baby, he was educated at public school
before going to medical college.
Medicine was not challenging enough, however, and he went into
computers instead, working on programmes for banks and other financial
institutions. He started Rhodium with GBP 2,500 borrowed from friends
and paid them all back within a week.
He won contracts with corporate giants such as Rank Xerox, Vodafone
and American Express.
Within five years he had amassed a GBP 25million fortune and a
lifestyle to match, putting him on a top 20 list of Britain's richest
under 30. He shared 18th place with David and Victoria Beckham and the
boxer Naseem Hamed.
Yesterday he claimed his expertise had made him 'a thorn in Big
He said: 'What I've developed will protect everyone's personal
'Can you imagine what this means to a Government which has just
introduced legislation known as the Regulation of Investigatory Powers
Act with the intention of ordering anyone and everyone to reveal their
email password whenever asked?
'But it goes further than that. We know MI5 is building a
multimillion pound facility to monitor all email sent and received in
Britain. With my technology they won't be able to read anything.
'They are frightened of me, particularly as I am young, I am Asian
and my mind is ahead of their own young people in this field.
'It gets up the noses of a Government that thinks of Tamil Tigers
or illegal immigrants whenever they hear the words Sri Lankan. I am
British to the bone but the only place I can now find support is back
here.' Mr de Saram says he is in Sri Lanka working on a supercomputer
project with the science fiction writer Sir Arthur C Clarke, whose 2001
A Space Odyssey had a supercomputer called HAL in a major role.
Last night Sir Arthur said he believes his associate's story of
Government persecution but said their business relationship would have
to be 'put on hold' until the problems in Britain were resolved.
Mr de Saram said there was nothing suspicious in the apparent speed
with which he left the UK.
'I never plan my trips much. I just buy a ticket and get on a
plane. I am always coming here for the Clarke project.
'But everything came down on me at once.
Rhodium was trading quite happily and the next thing the bank
started doing some very strange things with our cheques.
Certain cheques were lost or allegedly misplaced and as a result
creditors were not paid.
'This was obviously causing great disruption to our trading and the
next thing I found was that cheques were being bounced, even though we
had agreed protocols with the bank.
'The Government sees me as a threat and they have launched a
campaign to bring me to my knees.
'Unfortunately, people who don't understand are saying, "He's done
a runner and he's not coming back to face his responsibilities." But
I'll be back and under my own free will.
'I have worked very, very hard to accomplish my position in Britain
as one of the youngest and most successful businessmen.
'I am not going to let anyone snatch it away from me on the basis
and I truly believe this is the case that I am seen as an Asian who
shouldn't be allowed to get to these heights.' Mr de Saram said he had
nothing to hide and pointed out that there is an extradition treaty
between Sri Lanka and Britain.
He said his assets in Britain still include his GBP 100,000 Ferrari
a rare blue model because 'red is so common, the colour of a double
decker bus' and a house in West London.
Then Mr de Saram issued a challenge. He said: 'Now I've given my
explanation, I'd like the Government to give me some answers. They know
where to find me.'
Copyright 2000 Associated Newspapers Ltd.
DAILY MAIL (London)
November 28, 2000