GLOBAL WEB OF LIES EXPOSED
The sheer audacity is, it has to be said, almost unbelievable.
This is the extraordinary story behind 'The UK Engineering Design Academy Limited', exposed as a fake in the last edition of the AJ (AJ 21.12.06).
It now transpires that the fraudsters concerned have a track record of illegal and copyright-infringing behaviour around the globe. From the USA to Hong Kong, the shadowy group behind www. ukpla. co. uk has been making extraordinary claims about its design credentials.
At the end of last year it emerged that those behind the UK website were claiming to have designed such buildings as Portcullis House, by Hopkins, and Foster's Spitalfields office scheme. The range and breadth of the projects they were taking credit for was extraordinary.
On its website, the fraudulent firm claims that it has established '18 branch offices throughout the UK'.
It goes on to say that it has also set up many offices in Europe, China, Asia and America. 'By January of 2006, the total number of designers in the company reached 3,800, ' the website claims. This is clearly rubbish.
The company's registered address is a PO Box number in north-west London, and Companies House has no record of the -firm's existence before August 2006.
Since Christmas, many more details have come to light about the of the group. It was set up by a pair of unnamed designers - it is not clear whether or not they are qualified architects - from Hong Kong.
It is believed that the dubious duo originally launched themselves as a graphics and 3D visualisation company called the Shenzhen RongHuaMing Design Company ( www. szrhm. com).
Shenzhen is a Chinese city on the border with Hong Kong's special administrative zone.
But this company was not profitable enough for the pair. One source from China, who has investigated the group, told the AJ that they had targeted the increasingly lucrative market for architecture in the booming Chinese economy.
'After realising the architecture and urban planning market has become a gold mine in China in recent years, they stole work and images, ' he said, 'and put them in their portfolios to bid for Chinese urban design work using false Hong Kongand US-based design firm names.'
The US-based RHM Architecture Design Institute or RHM International Engineering Design Group, www. usa-delaware. com, was set up in 2005, and the Hong Kong-based Hong Kong International Engineering Design Research Institute, www. aplhk. cc, was established a little earlier. These websites were both fronts and almost nothing written on them is true.
This astoundingly audacious strategy seems to have been fairly successful, as unbelievable as it is. It is understood that this absurd and fraudulent front allowed the firm to be shortlisted for at least one major competition in the Far East - an achievement that would have paid a healthy honorarium.
It is impossible to tell how many schemes the conniving duo have managed to pick up and how many Chinese clients were duped by their claims.
The American website, www. usa-delaware. com, makes for fascinating reading.
The RHM group claims to be the world's second biggest architectural firm, a statement backed up by an invented British survey not dissimilar to the AJ100. It is also uncertain whether anyone in the US has fallen for their fraud.
But nothing prepares you for the claims on the Hong Kong site. Among the biographies of invented designers on the site sits the one - a David Gilbert - illustrated by a mugshot of Hollywood superstar Keanu Reeves ( www.aplhk. cc. sjs. htm). Quite what this is trying to achieve is anyone's guess.
Both the American and Hong Kong companies share the same registered address with Shenzhen RongHuaMing Design Company in their online Chinese yellow pages adverts. There can be little doubt that there is a strong connection between them.
The full extent of this web of intrigue is nothing short of amazing, but there is evidence that others around the globe are trying similar antics. With the power of the Internet, and the relatively uncontrollable markets in India and China only likely to grow, this could be a threat that established Brits have to deal with for many years to come.
Internet fraud is accelerating globally and this could well be just the tip of the iceberg. The frustrating thing is that there appears to be very little that can be done to stop it.
As David Allsop of GSS Architects, a practice whose work was ripped off on the UK version of the site put it: 'We've talked to our legal advisors but this doesn't seem to be an avenue we can pursue.'
But perhaps the last word ought to go to the AJ's source in China. 'Chinese people welcome international master and talented architects to build their masterpieces in China, but not cheaters, ' he said, sadly.