A SUAVE financial advisor suspected of swindling North-East pensioners out of more than £1m is to become the subject of an international manhunt.

Detectives believe Kole Lulguraj fleeced elderly people out of their life savings to fund a luxury lifestyle before fleeing the country.

One of his victims, a former Barnard Castle Methodist preacher, who taught Sunday school for more than 50 years, was swindled out of over £280, 000 and died aged 94, a year after the alleged theft came to light.

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Lulguraj, 48, who is from Montenegro, but used to live in Darlington, slipped the net after he was arrested and quizzed by police officers.

Detective Constable Dave Wearmouth, of Durham Constabulary’s major crime team, said: “He is someone who has left the country. We are the process of getting an arrest warrant. It is going to be long time before we get hold of him. We have got to find him first, that is the problem.

“We are in the process of tracing him. I do not want to see him evade justice.”

The crimes came to light after relatives of one of his alleged victims, who has since died, queried her bank account when working out the funding of care home bills.

Police were called in and launched an investigation into his business dealings.

DC Wearmouth said: “He was their financial advisor. He was supposed to be looking after their finances for them. They gave him carte blanche to look after their money for them.”

Police believe they have enough evidence to charge Lulguraj with theft from seven victims in the Darlington and Barnard Castle areas.

The amounts stolen range from £18,000 to almost £283,000. All of the victims were elderly.

DC Wearmouth said: “He would produce documents to show these investments were going in and he would tell them he was moving it around from them and they did not know.

“They just trusted him. It was not until someone ended up in a care home that relatives were concerned.

“They thought she should have hundreds of thousands of pounds and lo and behold she was in a care home on benefits and that was when it came to light. The relatives looked into it and brought it to the attention of police. We started digging from there and found other people as well.”

The Northern Echo understands Lulguraj moved to the North-East from the US and was originally called Kola, but changed his name to Kole because he did not like the association people made with the fizzy drink.

He is thought to have lived in Darlington in the mid-1990s and Leeds while taking money from his victims' accounts between 1999 and 2011.

DC Wearmouth said: “He had a lavish lifestyle with foreign holidays and investment abroad for a business he was trying to set up and that has gone. He lost a lot of money. There is nothing to show for it, other than he appeared to be very wealthy.

“He had a lot of holidays and foreign travel but as far as assets go he did not have anything. He had hire cars and would rent nice properties and enjoy a lavish lifestyle.”

Twice married Lulguraj, who has two daughters, is also to be charged with the money laundering to the value of almost £900,000.

Lulguraj was arrested in 2011 and questioned three times, but granted bail and police think he fled the country in 2012 before he could be charged.

It is believed he may now be in theUS but police admit he could be anywhere in the world.