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MISSING Sean WoodhallMISSING: Sean Woodhall

A Sunday Express investigation has discovered widespread belief that Sean Woodhall, 43, and three other British businessmen faked the light-aircraft smash last May.

Debris washed up on a beach but no bodies have ever been found.

Woodhall, widely known as "Slippery Sean", was friends with Serbian gangsters on the Costa del Sol. He was days from settling a costly divorce.

Sensational claims are being made that a group of businessmen who went missing in a mysterious plane crash staged their deaths and fled with millions of pounds.

The four debt-ridden Britons were officially on board a small Brazilian charter plane that crashed along the country's coastline last May.

A rescue operation was called off when wreckage from the twin-engine Cessna washed up after several days.

However, the bodies of the four men and two Brazilian pilots have never been found. The passengers had links to companies that were in financial difficulties and one was less than a week away from settling a costly divorce.

Brazilian authorities are still trying to solve the crash riddle but Foreign Office officials last night confirmed that death certificates had been issued to the British families.

That has brought some closure to the relatives but a Sunday Express investigation into the flight's central character has discovered doubts over the official version of events.

Speculation has been rife among former associates of Sean Woodhall, 43, a convicted fraudster known as "Slippery Sean", that he staged the crash.

Among the passengers were 46-yearold Alan Kempson - an acquaintance of Sir John Major - and accountant Nigel Hodges, 52, who both ran sub-prime mortgage broking company Diamond Lifestyle Holdings.

Three days before the crash, its shares were suspended from the stock market due to massive funding problems. It is now in liquidation.

Also on board was father-of-five Woodhall, who had links to a suspected £100million property scam and was due to settle his divorce within days. Born Sean Lovelock in London in 1965, he grew up in Cambridgeshire but made his business career in the Birmingham area.

At 30 he changed his name to his mother's surname, Woodhall, after a row with his father, Ron.

In 1999 he married Victoria McLeod, now 39, and two years later was given an 18-month suspended sentence for his part in a fraud with franchising venture Advan.

Following that conviction, Woodhall took his heavily pregnant wife to the Costa del Sol where he tapped into Spain's booming property market.

For the next few years he worked closely with Staffordshire-based Ocean View Properties, a company run by his friend Colin Thomas.

It sold "off-plan" luxury Spanish apartments to British investors, including star sportsmen such as Aston Villa's Gareth Barry, ex-Leicester City captain Matt Elliott and former England cricketer Paul Nixon.

The company, which owes more than £100million, is being investigated by the police and the Insolvency Service.

According to former business associates, charming Woodhall, who was a serial adulterer, mingled with ruthless Serbian gangsters on the "Costa del Crime" and became one of the area's most well-known faces.

A Spanish lifestyle magazine even featured him as one of the region's model businessmen. He also dealt with controversial Spanish developer Ricardo Miranda, who was named by the Sunday Express last month as being a central figure in the alleged Ocean View scam.

As funds from Ocean View customers went missing, Miranda and Woodhall, who lived in the same Marbella complex as Sir Mark Thatcher, eyed Caribbean business opportunities.

The pair pinpointed coastline in the Dominican Republic and planned a £3billion golf resort called Punta Perla.

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