This sleeping British town of Consett was ‘front’ for major online porn and gambling operation

Consett is a town in the northwest of County Durham, England, about 14 miles (23 km) southwest of Newcastle upon Tyne. As per census of 2001, it home to 27,394 inhabitants. The quaint little town has suddenly come to limelight after it was found that 400 of its citizens were directors of nearly 1000 companies which were acting as a front for online porn and gambling.

Village couple John Mawson and his wife Sandra have been company directors for years, and between them serve 15 firms. John one day found out that he was a director in a online porn company when he out Thunder Flash Entertainment online.

“All we’re supposed to be is just the names,” said the 61-year-old retired supermarket worker, kneeling on the living room carpet to play with the couple’s Chihuahua.

He is not alone, nearly 400 people from the village are serving as directors for companies with addresses in Consett. These shell companies often have no real operations or staff in Britain, but have been conduits for millions of pounds in revenue generated by online businesses around the world.

Reuters who broke the story found out that many of Consett townsfolk served as directors of more than 1,000 businesses: poker games, pop-up get-rich-quick schemes, vendors of colon cleansers and healthfoods, and much more.

All the Consett front companies seem to be handiwork of a single man. Simon Dowson, 35, from Shotley Bridge, set up the shell companies to help online merchants – many from overseas – with transactions seen by credit card firms as “high risk” to get approval taking payments.Dowson, said he helped online merchants whose transactions are seen by credit card firms as “high risk” to win approval to take credit card payments.

For a few thousand pounds a time, Dowson would set up companies like Thunder Flash with UK addresses and provide the directors and company records, such as annual returns and tax forms, to meet UK requirements. Dowson, who lives in a refurbished farmhouse and drives a black Mercedes AMG, said a UK address made it easier for the sites to accept payments in Europe.

According to a Reuters analysis of corporate filings, at least 429 Consett residents have been or still are directors in companies serviced by Dowson.  Dowson said that for a “standard company” he collected between £2,500 and £3,000 a year in fees, out of which he paid the cost of providing a director, a registered address and a tax return.

He claims he was told what he was doing was “not best practice” but “not illegal in any way”.

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