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How this man made millions selling off the moon

Genius or con artist?

<p>Vadim Sadovski Shutterstock ; Courtesy Akaki Sanadze via YouTube</p>

Vadim Sadovski Shutterstock ; Courtesy Akaki Sanadze via YouTube

Dennis Hope, a former used car salesman from California, claimed ownership of the Moon in 1980 and has since allegedly made $12 million (£8.9m) "selling" it off by the acre. Real estate genius or savvy con artist who has pulled off one of the greatest scams of all time?

Read on for his incredible story. All dollar values in US dollars.

Jack of all trades

<p>John Black/Shutterstock</p>

John Black/Shutterstock

Before he had his multimillion-dollar brainwave, Hope worked as a used car salesman, actor and ventriloquist. His risqué cabaret act made him realise he could say just about anything and get away with it, as long as he could smile his way through.

Crazy idea

<p>Vovan/Shutterstock</p>

Vovan/Shutterstock

One day back in 1980, a recently divorced and stone-broke Hope was thinking he could generate some cash if only he had a property portfolio to exploit. Looking out of a nearby window, the Moon caught his eye and a crazy idea was born.

Free for all

<p>Martin Trajkovski/Shutterstock</p>

Martin Trajkovski/Shutterstock

What if he could claim ownership of the celestial body and make money selling the land? As far as he was aware, nobody owned or had claimed the Moon, so it was up for grabs. Hope hit the local library to find evidence to back up his assertion.

Legal basis

<p>Courtesy Akaki Sanadze via YouTube</p>

Courtesy Akaki Sanadze via YouTube

He got his hands on a copy of the 1967 UN Outer Space Treaty and homed in on Article II which states: “Outer space, including the Moon and other celestial bodies, is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means.”

Cunning loophole

<p>JoemanjiArts/Shutterstock</p>

JoemanjiArts/Shutterstock

The used car salesman took this to mean that, while countries are barred from making land claims on the Moon, individuals are not. Hope had discovered what he thought was a cunning loophole and decided to stake his claim there and then.

Successful registration

<p>iQoncept/Shutterstock</p>

iQoncept/Shutterstock

He cobbled together a document declaring ownership of the Moon, as well as eight other planets and their moons, stating his intention to sell off plots of land. He was eventually able to register his claim with the local US Governmental Office after several attempts.

UN application

<p>BlurAZ/Shutterstock</p>

BlurAZ/Shutterstock

Buoyed with confidence now that he'd managed to register his claim officially, Hope brazenly posted it off to the UN HQ in New York, as well as the government of the Soviet Union. Needless to say, he never received a response.

Rightful owner

<p>Vadim Sadovski Shutterstock</p>

Vadim Sadovski Shutterstock

Assuming the lack of reply was tacit approval for his hair-brained scheme, in his mind Hope was now the rightful owner of the Moon and eight other planets in the solar system, and he set about dividing his acquisitions into plots and formulating deeds.

Humble beginnings

<p>S_Photo/Shutterstock</p>

S_Photo/Shutterstock

Hope first started selling chunks of the Moon in his local neighbourhood drinking holes. “I'd sit in bars, with a batch of deeds in my coat,” he says. “I'd get talking to someone and when they asked what I did, I'd say, 'I sell the Moon'.”

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The Lunar Embassy

<p>The Lunar Embassy</p>

The Lunar Embassy

Realising he had a market for his scheme, Hope trademarked the term Lunar Embassy. By 1995, he was making enough money selling land in outer space to give up his day job and concentrate 100% on his baby, building a website called the MoonShop in the process.

Media frenzy

<p>Enterlinedesign/Shutterstock</p>

Enterlinedesign/Shutterstock

Hope has never had any trouble attracting publicity for his scheme. The Lunar Embassy has been featured on TV in over 180 countries on around 80 different TV channels, including CNN, NBC and the BBC.

Land prices

<p>Lunar Embassy</p>

Lunar Embassy

The cheapest plot of land available on the Lunar Embassy site, a single acre, is priced at $24.99 (£18.40), while the most expensive, a 'continent-sized' expanse of territory of 5.3 million acres, was on sale for a cool $13.3 million (£9.8m).

Extra moneyspinner

<p>Tashatuvango/Shutterstock</p>

Tashatuvango/Shutterstock

Not content with simply selling plots of land on the Moon and the planets of the solar system, Hope also sells extraterrestrial domain names with suffixes like .moon and .mars via the Lunar Embassy site.

Millions of customers

<p>Vibrant Image Studio/Shutterstock</p>

Vibrant Image Studio/Shutterstock

Hope claims to have over five million customers who own: 611 million acres of land on the Moon; 325 million acres on Mars; and a combined 125 million acres on Venus; Io, one of Jupiter's moons; and Mercury.

Roaring trade

<p>De Mango/Shutterstock</p>

De Mango/Shutterstock

Business is well and truly booming according to Hope, who doesn't anticipate a slowdown in sales any time soon. Rushed off his feet, he claims to be selling a staggering 1,500 lunar properties a day, and then some.

Universal appeal

<p>Ermolaev Alexander/Shutterstock</p>

Ermolaev Alexander/Shutterstock

Plots of land on the Moon are owned by all age groups, from toddlers to seniors. The youngest lunar landowner is a two-year-old from Germany and the oldest is 97. You know what they say about an old fool.

Hollywood celeb customers

<p>FeatureFish/Shutterstock</p>

FeatureFish/Shutterstock

The Lunar Embassy counts a whole host of A-list celebrities among its bulging customer base – 675 in total – the most high-profile of which allegedly include Tom Cruise, John Travolta and Nicole Kidman.

Presidential lunar landowners

<p>Joseph August/Shutterstock</p>

Joseph August/Shutterstock

It's not just the cream of Hollywood who couldn't resist snapping up some land on the Moon. Hope claims three former presidents of the United States – Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George W Bush – have all bought plots from the Lunar Embassy.

Corporate clients

<p>diversepixel/Shutterstock</p>

diversepixel/Shutterstock

Hope boasts that 1,800 major corporations have acquired huge swathes of the Moon from the Lunar Embassy, and has mentioned that the Hilton and Marriott chains are among them, presumably securing land for that first lunar hotel.

Protected regions

<p>Romolo Tavani/Shutterstock</p>

Romolo Tavani/Shutterstock

Not every part of the Moon is up for sale. Hope has deemed the polar regions off limits as they contain the Moon's frozen water supplies. In fact, he swears he has turned down a multimillion-dollar offer to safeguard future H20 reserves.

The Galactic Government

<p>The Galactic Government</p>

The Galactic Government

Hope founded the Galactic Government in 2004, which has its own constitution, ratified the same year by 173,562 extraterrestrial land owners. Hope has even claimed that the Galactic Government has diplomatic relations with over 30 Earth governments.

Extraterrestrial currency

<p>Efetova Anna/Shutterstock</p>

Efetova Anna/Shutterstock

The Galactic Government has created its own currency according to Hope, which is backed by the Moon's helium reserves, which he says are worth $6 quadrillion (£4.4qd). It just gets curiouser and curiouser.

The Galactic Government shuttle

<p>NikoNomad/Shutterstock</p>

NikoNomad/Shutterstock

If that isn't out there enough for you, Hope says that in 2009 the Galactic Government patented a spacecraft that can journey to the Moon in 30 minutes, although it hasn't launched yet.

Hope's pyramid colony

<p>diversepixel/Shutterstock</p>

diversepixel/Shutterstock

Once the shuttle service is up and running, Hope intends to construct a pyramid city on the Moon housing 70,000 people. The structure will be 2.5km tall and contain a whopping 62 billion square feet of inhabitable space. We'll believe it when we see it.

Previous 'owners'

<p>Anneka/Shutterstock</p>

Anneka/Shutterstock

Contrary to what he thinks, Hope was not the first person to claim ownership of the Moon, and he isn’t even the second or third. In fact, people have been doing it for hundreds of years, the oldest claim being that of the Jurgen family of Germany, which dates back to 1756.

Hope's big misunderstanding

<p>Yuriy Boyko/Shutterstock</p>

Yuriy Boyko/Shutterstock

Space law experts have weighed in on the matter and it's bad news for Hope. Tanja Masson-Zwaan, deputy director of the International Institute of Space Law, has told National Geographic that UN treaties apply to people as well as countries, rendering Hope's claim null and void.

Expert verdict

<p>Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock</p>

Maksim Kabakou/Shutterstock

Frans von der Dunk, the world's foremost space law expert, agrees. The super-respected attorney has described Hope's self-proclaimed ownership of the Moon and solar system planets as “either a hollow claim or a fraud.”

Grey area

<p>iQoncept/Shutterstock</p>

iQoncept/Shutterstock

While most experts agree that Hope's claim is illegal, Henry Hertzfeld, a space analyst at George Washington University's Space Policy Institute, has explained to CNN that the 1967 treaty is unenforceable and Hope's claims are tricky to counteract from a legal point of view.

Legal hassles

<p>Evlakhov Valeriy/Shutterstock</p>

Evlakhov Valeriy/Shutterstock

Governments have tried and failed to sue Hope. Germany and Sweden attempted to indict him for fraud but both cases were dropped due to jurisdiction and enforcement issues.

Country ban

<p>Yang Yidong/Shutterstock</p>

Yang Yidong/Shutterstock

Although Germany and Sweden had no luck suing Hope, the Lunar Embassy is banned in China. The scheme was outlawed by authorities on charges of “profiteering and lunacy.” An interesting choice of words...

Now meet the man who sold the Eiffel Tower twice and almost bankrupted America